Depositional Systems of Western




Four semester credits

Dates: May 14 - June 5, 2018


Application Deadline: Rolling registration until filled


Register online


Cost: $4,695.00. Undergraduate  and $5495.00 Graduate.

Deposit $500 (required upon registration). Cost includes tuition, fees, food, lodging and transportation to field sites  from San Jose Int. Airport. Cost does not include airfare to San Jose. Students will be picked up and dropped-off in San Jose Airport.


Important Dates: Arriving San Jose Airport no later than May 14, 2018 and departing no earlier than June 5, 2018. Exact pick-up and drop-off places and times will be emailed to registered students ahead of camp.

Each session is limited to 20 students.


Introduction: Late Cretaceous to Paleogene deep-water deposits are spectacularly exposed along the coast of western California.  This is an opportunity to map and interpret the stratigraphic evolution of canyon, channel-fill, levee, splay (lobe), and overbank clastic assemblages deposited in a forearc basin setting.  The processes of sedimentation and architecture of mudstone- and conglomerate-rich strata will be featured from shelf to basin floor.  These depositional systems are applied as analogs to help understand geologic risk in deep-water drilling programs in both active and passive margin plays.  The history of exploration into these turbidite-dominated systems began over a half century ago and inspired the famous work that led to the identification of Lowe division terminology.  Today, these deposits remain relevant as reservoir analogs for petroleum provinces and will continue to be useful for years as the nature of industry challenges evolve.  The classic outcrops visited on this field course were the basis of a Hedberg Field Research Conference in 2000.

Key mapping exercises will emphasize preparation of stratigraphic columns, geologic maps, structural cross sections, and completion of formal reports.  Successive projects will involve greater geologic complexity, and one project will emphasize the assessment of petroleum resources.  Practical applications to resource exploration and development (i.e., new ventures, exploration, development and production of oil and natural gas) are emphasized.  These skills are also extensively used for mapping the subsurface in the broad field of environmental sciences.  This course is aimed at students wishing to pursue careers in sedimentary geology and geophysics.

This course will give participants an understanding of the broad scope of siliciclastic depositional systems. 

By the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  1. Map deep-water rocks including turbidites, debrites, and transitional to hybrid flow type deposits and describe their mechanisms of transport and deposition

  2. Map the different types of deep-water depositional environments (canyon, channel, levee, lobe, overbank) and their implications to reservoir architecture and reservoir quality

  3. Map and interpret ancient deep-water depositional systems, from fine-grained to coarse-grained and conglomeratic systems – many of these outcrops are extensively faulted due to later tectonism along the Pacific and North American transform boundary (these formations contrast from deep-water formations deposited in transform basins in the San Diego area) 

  4. ·Build different types of submarine fan, valley, apron depositional models as they pertain to continental margin tectonics, from passive to active margins, and strike-slip, forearc, and foreland basins

  5. Compare and contrast marine and non-marine depositional systems and sediment transport processes

  6. Characterize and interpret deep-water reservoirs and build relationships with depositional environments using outcrop, core, and other industry data via collaborative reservoir characterization exercises

  7. Use skills and concepts relating to lithofacies and stratigraphic architecture to understand variations in deep-water reservoir properties pertaining to reservoir presence, reservoir quality, and seal presence, as well as use processes of sedimentation to determine paleo-environment from core

  8. Learn how to apply the chronostratigraphy of the Great Valley Group, and apply predictive attributes to these sedimentary deposits in the context of reservoir development

  9. Integrate outcrop data to understand the risks and associated uncertainty in reservoir modeling to flow simulation

  10. Conceptualize and apply source-to-sink transport (petrography, U-Pb age dating, geochemistry) and sequence stratigraphy methods to deep-water sediment delivery

  11. Understand the context, limitations, and utility in datasets used to perform seismic interpretation, reservoir characterization, core analysis, geophysical log interpretation, sequence stratigraphy, play fairway mapping, risk and uncertainty analysis, gross depositional environment mapping, and oil and gas exploration methods from pore scale to basin scale

Prerequisites: Sedimentology, stratigraphy, mineralogy, petrology, structural geology, geophysics is helpful but not required.  Exceptions considered on request.

Physical demands: Field work will involve mapping remote areas and will include daily hikes of considerable length.  Students should be physically and mentally prepared for work in coastal and mountainous terrain in and around the areas of Pescadero, Napa, Guinda, Monterey, Wagon Caves Rock, Coalinga, and San Luis Reservoir. 

Climate: Weather in northern California during the spring is generally fine.  However, participants should be prepared for hot days (95° F / 35° C), and cold, rainy weather (45° F / 7° C) during storms.  Participants should respect the variability in the daily tides and frequently changing weather patterns in the mountain passes.

Facilities: Lodging for the program will be split between hotel and tent camping in parks equipped with modern shared facilities.  Our accommodations will be in and around the cities of Palo Alto, Half Moon Bay, Davis, Monterey, King City, Coalinga, and Gilroy.  Students will need to supply their own tents and bedding (sheets, or sleeping bag).

Other required equipment:  Basic geology tools including hammer, hand lens, write-in-the-rain notebook, map case, colored pencils, Brunton compass (or equivalent).  Students will need a laptop for written reports.  Suitable clothing for working in hot, coastal environments and cool, mountainous environments including wide-brimmed hat, sun-proof shirts and pants, sturdy boots, and appropriate socks is required.  A complete and detailed equipment list will be provided for participants ahead of the camp.


Key locales visited on this field course clockwise from top left: Upper Cretaceous Venado Sandstone exposures at Monticello Dam near Napa; Upper Cretaceous Sites Sandstone north of Guinda; Paleogene Pigeon Point Formation at Bean Hollow State Beach near Pescadero; Paleogene Carmelo Formation at Point Lobos State Reserve.  Through this course, students will have the opportunity to map several kilometers of stratigraphy including numerous types of clastic lithologies.  Faulting and folding of the strata since deposition and outcrop limits challenge students to think in three dimensions to reconstruct the basin history.



Matrix- and clast-supported conglomerate (right) against Salinian granite (left) at Point Lobos State Reserve, interpreted as the wall of a Paleogene submarine canyon.  Geologists for scale in lower right corner of photo.  Submarine canyons are the main suppliers of coarse sediment and nutrients to the deep ocean.


Outcrops of the Cretaceous Panoche Formation including the Benito Sandstone and Papanatas Conglomerate, featuring lateral accretion packages (LAP) comprising channel-fill and larallyte extensive sandstone- and conglomerate-rich beds interpreted as lobes.  Aerial photography is used to assist mapping these steeply dipping and complexly faulted marine clastic deposits.


Lenticular and poorly sorted conglomerate and sandstone deposited primarily by high-density turbidity currents at Point Lobos State Reserve near Monterey.  These deposits of the Paleogene Carmelo Formation are interpreted to represent the fill of an ancient submarine canyon.  For years, questions have been raised pertaining to the observed stratigraphic cyclicity in these rocks.  These observations will be used to interpret upslope sediment delivery, coastal processes, presence of feeder systems, and fidelity of sequence stratigraphic methods in deep-water depositional systems.



Collaborative core-log-seismic exercises enhance and enrich the education experience.



Exposures of matrix- and clast-supported conglomerate of the Pigeon Point Formation south of Pescadero.  In the early part of this field program, we will discuss how fluids, plastics, and thixotropic substances deform with the application of shear stress.




For more information, please contact:


Dr. Jon R. Rotzien

Basin Dynamics

1875 Post Oak Park Drive #819

Houston, TX 77027

(650) 862–0574


Dr. Nuri Uzunlar

Director, Black Hills Natural Sciences Field Station 

Professor, Geology and Geological Engineering Department

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

 Phone:  (605) 431-1275


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