Understanding geological maps

Tutor: Mike Horne, FGS.

For the University of Hull, Centre for Lifelong Learning and Department of Geography.

We can get an enormous amount of information from a geological map:
 -  where to find different types of rock and their fossils
 - a greater understanding of landscape
 - predictions of structures and rock types at depth
 - discover the geological history of an area
This course will show you how a geological map is made, what all the symbols mean, how to draw a cross section and how to unlock the information from a two dimensional plan to get a four dimensional understanding.
The course offers the opportunity to study the geological maps in the University's collection.

Copyright statement - Permission is given for single copies to be made or printed for personal, educational or non-commercial use.
You may make multiple copies for educational or non-commercial uses if you inform me. You may not alter any of the pages without permission.

The course notes may contain links to external sites - the content of which is beyond my control. Please respect the copyright of the owners of such sites - a link from my course notes does not imply permission for you to print or redistribute the content of other people's web sites.


The "rock cycle",
The laws of 'superposition' and 'cross cutting relationships'
Introduction to stratigraphy and  structural geology
Three dimensional models.
Symbols used on geological maps
Drawing a topographic cross section
Use of dip and strike in creating a geological cross section
Unraveling the geological history of the area on a map
Prediction of geology at depth
Drawing a geological cross section Other sorts of geological maps
How to make a geological map
A half day field trip to see the effects of the geology on the landscape
(The tutor will try to include other related items of interest to the class.)

This course is for those interested in Earth Sciences, geology, stratigraphy, soils and landscape interpretation.
Students on previous courses have requested a course on this topic.


Students will be asked to interpret the geology shown on the maps provided, describe the geological history of the area and draw cross sections from cartoon and real geological maps. These will be used for the assessment. The assessment will be an ongoing process and will be based on the completion of various projects through the course - such as making 3D models, interpreting and drawing cross sections from cartoon and geological maps, and the fieldwork.



For the assessment you completed portfolio should include - two models of geological structures; an interpretation of cross section MH; completed cartoon maps (using strike and contours) C2A, C3, C4 and C6; completed cartoon maps (with dips) 2 and 7; work from geological survey maps completed at the meetings; a cross section and interpretation of the Flint sheet; and a copy of your notes from the field trip.

Things that will be useful for the course -

Things that might be useful for the course -

Things that will be useful for the fieldwork -

Things that might be useful for the fieldwork -

General information about courses and safety.

Geology course skills

(Risk assessment for laboratory work)

Note - You must read and understand the risk assessments

Fieldwork - please bring your diary to the first meeting so that we can arrange the date of the fieldwork to suit the majority of people.

I will ask you to fill out a form giving me your contact details just incase we need to change any of the details for the field meeting. I will treat the information as confidential and will destroy it at the end of the course unless you give me permission to keep it.

I will set up an e-mail group so we can share information about the course and filedwork. Please do not send unexpected attachments to the group.

resources -

basic principles of geology

good books for geology basics

good books about local geology

Barnes J W & R J Lisle 2004. Basic Geological Mapping (4th edn). John Wiley & Sons, Chichester. isbn 0-470-84986-X. 184pp.

Bennison G M 1969. An introduction to geological structures and maps. (2nd edn) Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd., London.

Bennison G M 1990. An Introduction to Geological Structures and Maps. Routledge, Chapman and Hall Inc.

Edmonds E 1983. The Geological Map. [British Geological Survey] 36pp.

Gass I G et al. 1972.Field relations. Course S23, block. The Open University, Milton Keynes.

Hamblin W K & J D Howard 1980. Exercises in physical geology. Burgess Publishing Company, Minnesota. 222pp

Jason I (ed) 2004. Britain beneath our feet. British Geological Survey Occasional Publication number 4. Keyworth. 114pp. isbn 055272470-9

Lisle R J 2004. Geological structures and maps - a practical guide (3rd edn.). Elsevier, Oxford 106pp. isbn 0750657804. (UKL 20.99)

Lovell J P B 1977. The British Isles through geological time George Allen & Unwin, London.

Maltman A, 1996. Geological Maps an Introduction, 2nd Edition. John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Penguin Dictionary of Geology.

Thomas J A G 1979. An introduction to geological maps. (2nd edn). George Allen & Unwin, London.67pp.

Winchester, Simon 2001. The map that changed the world. Penguin Books isbn0-140-28039-1 339pp (UKL 6.99)

Woodcock N 1994. Geology and environment in Britain and Ireland. UCL Press, London. isbn 1-85728-054-7.

Maps from the British Geological Survey

Holiday Geology Guides from the British Geological Survey

External links - please resepct copyright :-

Digimap - academic access to OS and GS maps - Athens password required

An Introduction to Geologic Maps by Gary J. Calderone , Michelle Hall-Wallace and Robert F. Butler

BGS catalogue of published maps

Geological Maps - by Dinojim

Geologic Maps - USGS National Park Service

Geology and Biodiversity (pdf)

Geology and flooding

Geology of the Central South Coast of England - Introduction and Maps by Ian West

International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS)

Making models of faults

Notes on Geological Map-reading by Alfred Harker 1920 (pdf)

Reading and Understanding Geologic Maps by Maine Geological Survey

Structural Geology course notes from MIT

"what is a geologic map?" USGS

"what are you standing on" Utah State


Notes about the course -

The course will contain more practical work than lectures. There are not many resources available about geological maps - so most of the teaching will be based on the tutor's own overhead transparencies.

A knowledge of geology and rocks is not necessary for this course, though this course will enhance the understanding of an experienced student. In some ways we will be dealing with idealised rocks that follow simple rules and behave in predictable ways. We will be dealing to some extent with rock units in an abstract way and using the evidence from a map to as a puzzle that we can unravel using a logical mind.

Course Fieldwork


For your assessed work please try to include the following course specific aims -

Understand the key concepts of stratigraphy. (The rules of stratigraphy are fundamental to interpreting geological maps).

Evaluate evidence from maps using given methods. (Can you turn the two dimensional information into something that is four dimensional?)

Relate the information on a geological map to landscape features. (How does the durability of a rock type affect the topography?)

Create a geological cross section from a published map. (By plotting the topography and outcrops of the rocks onto a piece of graph paper you can create a cross section that will help you understand the structure and geological history of the area.)

Report findings using given scientific terminology and conventions. (Follow the conventions of scientific writing in your work. )



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updated 25/1/2012