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One of the guiding principals of geology is a concept known as superposition. It is the common sense observation that what is at the bottom of a group of sediments is the oldest.

One of the geographic regions of Virginia is the Coastal Plain. The Coastal Plain is an eastward dipping series of sediment layers that range in age from 120 million years old to the present. These layers have been studied for more than 200 years and,though new information is constantly being brought forward, the general characteristics and fossils that are found within the Coastal Plain sediments are quite familiar to the student of Virginia geology. These sediments were laid down in orderly fashion, one on top of the other as the sea advanced and retreated over millions of years.

In the early 1980s, the state of Virginia began to sink research wells throughout southeastern Virginia. The cores brought up from the drill sites were studied and the ages of the sediments correlated with known fossils. All went as expected until 1986. At that time, researchers found a confusion of sediments jumbled and tumbled in a fashion never before seen in the Exmore bed.

Or so the researchers thought that this had never before been seen. Careful research into the mystery beds revealed that in the 1940s the USGS had sent geologists to hunt for water supplies in the area of the lower Chesapeake Bay. The region's massive build-up of support and supply facilities for World War II demanded more freshwater. A geologist at that time reported an unusual superposition of sediments during the digging of wells. The sediments were mangled, mixed, and overturned. The search was not successful; instead of freshwater sources the geologists encountered saltwater! In 52 test wells, only saltwater was brought up.

By simply connecting the location of the wells on a map, the geologist at that time noted an "inland saltwater wedge." However, his work was scorned. Fellow geologists couldn't accept the fact that the sediments as found might be stopping the outward push of freshwater aquifers flowing from the west. In general, sedimentary layers just don't look or act like the ones that the geologist reported in the 1940s.

Now we know that these early observations were correct. Those jumbled and mixed sediment layers were the result of an Earth-changing event. Approximately 35 million years ago, a meteorite slammed into the Atlantic and in a matter of seconds changed the layers into a jumble of old and new. The impact took seconds to change what had taken millions of years to lie down.

A surge of water and debris rushed outward. In what is now thought to be 30 minutes, the orderly layers of Coastal Plain sediments were a chaotic mix of rocks, mud, and sediments. In the next 30 minutes, there was a return surge and rocks and debris began to be sorted by size.

Today, geologists recognize three distinct layers caused by the impact of the meteorite. The first and lowest are the mega blocks of continental shelf, this area is known as crater unit A. The next, crater unit B, is made of house-size blocks of rock. The last and thickest is crater unit C or the Exmore beds. As Dr. Lucy Edwards, a USGS scientist who is an expert in dinoflagellates said, " No one had ever seen anything like it. Beds of that thickness that are sorted are just not seen" - unless they are created by a huge force, such as that of a meteorite, and located in a crater.

Wide-mouthed jar with lid
Sediment (your local creek bed, mud puddle, or any place where dirt is exposed; sediment from the seashore will work, too)


  1. Scoop up dirt that includes small rocks, sand, and mud
  2. Place in jar, no more than 1/3 full
  3. Add water to 1 inch below the top
  4. Cover with lid
  5. Shake thoroughly
  6. Write down/draw what you expect to find, specifically: How long do you think it will take for the sediment in the jar to settle? What will it look like when it settles?
  7. Wait (1-3 days!)
  8. Describe your results and compare them to your predictions
  9. What did you learn?

Big particles settle out before fine ones and it will take sever days for the water to clear completely, even though mixed sediments will form in layers according to size




To observe how one can create friction from the movement of materials. (Teacher note: Students should understand how a meteor can become so hot when approaching earth and entering the atmosphere. Space temperatures are below 200 degrees Celsius.)


  1. two Styrofoam cups
  2. masking tape
  3. sand
  4. thermometer
  5. balance (optional; used to find calories)

(Optional: Calculate the calories. You must find the weight of the sand. See below.)

  1. Place sand into one of the cups.
  2. Seal the top of one cup to the top of the other cup with masking tape.
  3. Create a hold in one of the cups and place the thermometer in the hole. Seal the thermometer.
  4. Measure the temperature of the sand. Record.
  5. Shake the cups for a designated time.
  6. Measure the temperature of the sand immediately after the designated time. Record.


  1. What is the connection between motion and heat?
  2. Rub your hands together vigorously. Why do your hands get warm?
  3. Explain how this relates to a meteorite as it strikes the earth.

Calories: This is the standard unit for heat. One calorie is: the amount of heat required to raise one gram of water one degree Celsius. Calculate the number of calories that were produced in the shaking sand experiment. The sand must be weighed. (Background: To find the calories one needs: the change in temperature, mass of the sand, and the specific heat of sand.) The specific heat of sand is 0.24.

The formula is:
Calories = change in temperature X mass X 0.24

Remember that the temperature must be in degrees Celsius and the mass in grams.

Joule: This is the standard unit of energy. One calorie is equal to 4.186 joules. Convert your calories into joules. The formula is:

Joules = number of calories X 4.186

Look at the data below and discuss how a meteor can create destruction on the earth. The energy is expressed in kilojoules, which is 1000 times a joule.

Event Energy (kilojoules)

Event: One 1,660 kg (3,500 lb.) car colliding into a 5 x 105 Wall at 90 km/h (55 mph)

Event: Two cars colliding head on Energy: 1 x 106 Explosion of 1 ton of TNT 4.2 x 109 Average lightning bolt 5 x 109 Average hurricane 7.5 x 1011 Explosion of hydrogen bomb 8.4 x 1016 Total USA electric power production (1990) 1 x 1019 Earth's daily amount of solar energy 1.1 x 1022 Impact of a large meteor 7.5 x 1023 (the one that wiped out dinosaurs) (10 km diameter, 20 km/sec) Create a way that you can compare the amount of energy between each event. Is the amount of energy between the collision of 2 cars two times the amount of one car and wall? Find a way to solve this problem.




In the data table below are listed some of the annual meteor showers. In the space below your class may want to investigate and add other meteor showers that are smaller in number and brightness than the ones that are listed. This can be a research projects. NASA has large lists in its Web site.




PURPOSE: Examine the effect of different types of soil on the holding ability of water.

Describe porosity

Soil samples: large grain gravel, fine grain gravel, sand, clay
Four cups
Graduated cylinder


  1. Measure 200 ml mark line in each cup. Pour water into the cup, measure 200 ml on the side of the cup, pour out the water, let dry.
  2. The students will know where to place the different types of soil. Do this before the experiment and have dry soil cups ready.
  3. Fill each cup with the soil types: sand, clay, large grain gravel, and fine grain gravel.
  4. Fill the graduate cylinder to the top. Record how much water is in the graduated cylinder. Slowly pour the water into the first cup. Let the water seep through the sand. Slowly add more water until a small layer is visible on the surface of the sand.
  5. Find the amount of water held by the sand by subtracting the amount that is left in the graduated cylinder from the total mount of the cylinder. Record this amount in the data sheet.
  6. Repeat with each of the other cups: clay, large grain gravel and small grain gravel.

Data Sheet:

1. Find the porosity of each of the soils. Use the formula to find the porosity and place this on the data sheet.
FORMULA amount of water/the total amount of soil x 100 = _____%
2. Record the porosity on the data sheet.


  1. What can you conclude about the porosity of the four types of soil?
  2. Why can some soils hold more water?
  3. How does this experiment relate to an aquifer found in your state?


  1. The school grounds can be tested for porosity. What region is your school located in?
  2. How was it formed?
  3. How can an aquifer system become contaminated?
  4. What would be the source of the contamination?




This activity at http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/kids/aquifer.pdf is from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Drinking Water for Kids Web page. This activity illustrates how water is stored in an aquifer, how groundwater can become contaminated, and how this contamination ends up in well water. Several outstanding activities about the water management cycle are listed by grade level at http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw/kids/exper.html.




Students will become aware of the relationship of climate to plant life as might have been found in Virginia during the late Eocene Epoch of 37-33.8 million years ago.

The climate of a place determines the types and varieties of plants. Virginia during the late Eocene Epoch had an unusual mixture of tropical and subtropical elements. Plant fossils and pollen analysis indicate that Virginia was a place of heat and humidity similar to Florida and the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Just why this was the case is a difficult question to answer. Scientists are piecing together prehistoric climates by the clues left by fossils.

Research materials on the plants of Florida and coastal Mexico


  1. Research and identify the climates of Florida and Coastal Mexico.
  2. Collect and press examples of plants that are still found in your locality that are representatives of plants found during the late Eocene.
  3. Make a chart of the different types of plants that still may be found.
  4. Create a bulletin board entitled "Plants of the Late Eocene".




To have students locate on an Eocene world map the major Eocene meteorite impacts.

Probably the most dramatic geological event that ever took place on the Atlantic margin of North America occurred about 35 million years ago in the late Eocene Epoch. The ancient shoreline of the Virginia region was somewhere in the vicinity of where Richmond is today.

Astroblemes are the remaining craters and other structures where meteorites have hit Earth. More than 150 locations have been identified throughout the world.

Most craters wider than 10 km are classified as complex craters, because they exhibit unique structural features. Like simple craters, a raised rim marks the outer margin of complex craters. Inside the rim is a broad, flat circular plain called the annular trough. Large slump blocks fall away from the crater's outer wall and slide out over the floor of the annular trough toward the crater center. The inner edge of the annular trough is marked by central mountainous peak, a ring of peaks (a peak rink), or both. Inside the peak ring is the deepest part of the crater called the inner basin.

The general public is intensely interested in meteorite impacts and the resulting astroblemes. The Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet hit Jupiter in 1994, and the news captivated viewers worldwide. Also, theories that the a particularly large meteorite -- the Chicxulub -- is thought to have contributed to the demise of dinosaurs have been prominent in the news.

Lately, we have come to realize that a large meteorite htting the Earth could cause global environmental devastation and the mass extinction of animal and plant species. A meteorite impact results in a super-hot blast wave, a base surge of hot debris, gigantic tsunami waves, vaporization of a water column and target rocks, and giant earthquakes in a regional area. On a global scale, short-term effects could include fallout of ejected particles and raging wildfires. Long-term effects include prolonged darkness due to atmospheric debris, acid rain, and greenhouse warming.

A few astroblemes date to the Eocene Epoch. They are located at:

  1. The Chesapeake Bay
  2. Logancha, Russia
  3. Belorus, Russia
  4. Labrador, Canada
  5. Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
  6. Popigai, Russia

A map of the Eocene World [Click here for .pdf file of the Eocene World Map. The hatched line shows the shape of the continents during the Eocene Epoch.]
A world atlas

Reproduce the Eocene World map
Locate each of the astroblemes listed above by conducting an Internet search of "meteorite impacts"

Research the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact event on Jupiter
Research the Torino Scale, which is a scale that measures the damage caused by meteorites




The University of California at Berkeley Center for Science Education has developed an activity in which students can build their own seismograph. Go to:



Science Education Partnerships
This is a teacher- and student-friendly site that gives basic information about earthquakes and provides a host of links to lessons plans for elementary, middle, and high school. The site was developed by Science Education Partnerships and is maintained by the Corvalis (Oregon) School District and Oregon State University.




Dinoflagellates are incredibly easy to grow at home, requiring as little care as a houseplant except these "plants" produce bright blue light when shaken at night! These dinoflagellates have a circadian rhythm, which controls their bioluminescence and photosynthesis on a 24-hour basis. They "think" its day, and they only produce bioluminescence or flash when they "think" it's night. The bioluminescence that a dinoflagellate can produce reflects how healthy it is. In a similar way that we perceive being touched, this is the type of stimulation that causes a dinoflagellate to produce a flash of light. Dinos are highly sensitive to anything that pushes on their cell walls. Even the seawater they live in can cause them to flash if it becomes very rough and stirred up. That is what is happening whenever you shake the container that your dinos live in. The water becomes very turbulent and pushes on their cell walls causing them to flash. It takes about week to get used to the new light cycle (their circadian rhythms are getting use to their new home).

How do I get bioluminescent dinoflagellates to do the experiments?
Two very bright, tolerant, and non-toxic species are available by mail through two sources.

Center for Science Education and Outreach (CSEO)

Sunnyside SeaFarms

E-mail them your order clicking on the Web site. The dinoflagellates are mailed in clear plastic baggies that contain 50 ml of dinos and seawater per bag.
Cost per bag:
1-5 bags: $6.00
6-10 bags $4.00
11-20 bags $3.00
21+ bags $2.00

These companies also sell 3-ml vials, which are suitable for classroom use, so that each student can take a vail home with them. Shipping can be a problem, because sometimes the dinos don't survive.


  1. quantity of dinoflagellates
  2. dependable light source, bright but not too hot (The only way they can grow is by producing their own food using photosynthesis, just like plants!)
  3. a room that is not too hot or cold. Windows are not ideal, and one should avoid handling containers since the body temperature of humans could and often causes problems with dino growth.
  4. set up a "strict schedule" for light applications
  5. clear container

Experimenting with the bioluminescence:

  1. What different types of stimulation cause them to flash?
  2. How much stimulation can the dino withstand before their bioluminescence is exhausted? How long would it take them to recover?
  3. What immediate effects do you see if you put dinos in their night phase into the light?
  4. What difference do you notice between a cell in the middle of its day phase and one in the middle of the night phase? Hint: the chloroplasts are the golden brown bodies with the cell. How might you explain this?
  5. Examine the different stages in the life cycles of these asexually reproducing cells. (The entire life cycle takes 5-7 days.)

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