UCL Earth Sciences


GEOL0016 Structural Geology and Tectonics

An introduction to the concepts of stress, strain and deformation in the Earth's crust and lithosphere, and to the geological structures that result from tectonic processes.

Coordinator: Dr. Tom Mitchell

Module details
TitleStructural Geology and Tectonics
UG CodeGEOL0016
CoordinatorDr. Tom Mitchell
Other Contributors 
Credit15 credits
Coursework100% (Quizzes and written coursework)
Pre-RequisitesFirst year Earth Science modules
Maths & Stats Content and Requirement 
Total Number of Hours of Student Work188 hours
Hours of Lectures/Seminars20 hours
Hours of Practicals/Problem Classes20 hours
Hours of Tutorials0
Days of Fieldwork0

Emphasis is first placed on (1) illustrating how deformation processes change under the influence of changing pressures and temperatures with increasing depth in the lithosphere, and (2) examining the basic types of structures produced by single episodes of brittle and ductile deformation of the continental crust, and how their styles and geometries vary as a function of depth in the continental crust. Further emphasis is then placed on understanding (3) the geometry and types of structures produced by complex crustal deformation histories involving contractional, extensional and strike-slip regimes, (4) the deformation processes which control the microstructural evolution of deformed rocks, (5) factors influencing the strength and mechanical behaviour of the Earth's crust and underlying mantle lithosphere, (6) deformational controls on crustal-scale fluid flow and applications to understanding ore genesis and earthquake processes.


Structural geology is the study of deformation in the Earth’s crust. This deformation is heterogeneous: it happens at various scales, locations, and times; this deformation produces identifiable structures in the crust such as fractures and folds. An appreciation of earth structures has both enormous practical value and profound intellectual implications for how we view this planet.This course introduces the basic concepts of brittle and ductile deformation processes and how they control the strength, mechanical behaviour and development of structures in the Earth's continental crust and lithosphere. Students will develop a basic understanding of the forces driving deformation, and the displacements and strains associated with simple crustal deformations. The course then further develops a more advanced understanding of deformation processes and structures produced by displacement and deformation in the Earth's lithosphere at scales ranging from the tectonic plate scale, down to the crystal lattice scale.


  • Recognize structures produced by simple crustal deformation;
  • Quantitatively describe the geometry of structures in folded and faulted regions;
  • Understanding of stress and strain analysis of the Earth and the deformation response of Earth materials to applied stresses;
  • Knowledge of the techniques of structural synthesis, and an ability to apply these techniques in field surveys;
  • Interpret the relative timing of formation of structures, the kinematics of deformation, and the progressive deformation histories in a variety of deformed continental regimes;
  • Recognize and interpret the geological structure of deformed continental regimes, from mildly deformed upper crustal regimes to complexly deformed, deeper crustal regimes;
  • Interpret the geometry of simple structures (folds, faults, fractures, veins and shear zones) in terms of the stress regimes that produced them, and the displacements and strains associated with their development;
  • Explain how the types of deformation processes and the styles and geometries of structures produced during continental deformation are influenced by the intensity of deformation, and by the depth and temperature of their formation in the Earth's crust;
  • Interpret stress regimes and fluid pressure histories during continental deformation;