Teach the Earth > Course Design > Course Goals/Syllabus Database > Geomorphology


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Cathy Connor

University Alaska Southeat
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Why Take a Course in Geomorphology?
Human travelers from Tatshenshini Man, the 500 year old Alaska Native recovered from the Tatshenshini Glacier to Juneauites turning onto the UAS campus after passing Auke Lake, have utilized landforms as guides to get over passes to the next watershed, to follow river valleys to commercial trading centers, to cross deserts by using dune orientation or to navigate oriented tundra snow sasstrugi, and to locate oases or hunting sites. Mariners have found their coastal port cities by recognizing prominent headlands and bays from the sea. Ancient Hawaiians have left their footprints in lava flows as they crossed newly cooling landscapes while fleeing adversaries. The "Hunt for Osama bin Laden" has at times utilized the knowledge of cave geomorphologists to identify his possible hideouts in Afghanistan. Military campaigns have relied on landscape knowledge to surprise and overwhelm the enemy. The Jet Propulsion Lab rovers still ! operating on Mars, (Spirit and Opportunity), are remotely controlled from Pasadena, California by planetary geomorphologists, geologist, rocket scientists and engineers.

Seventy five percent of our Earth is covered with liquid water. Solar energy drives the active hydrosphere on our "planet ocean" that allows for continuous resurfacing and landscape development in response to climate change through time. The Earth's geothermal energy drives vertical and horizontal crustal changes, renewing eroded landforms through tectonic uplift and creating depositional areas through subsidence. The timescales or process rates controlling landscape formation are inversely proportional to the size of the landform in question. Mountains are deformed over timescales of 1 to 30 million years. Glaciers and ice sheets wax and wane over time periods of tens, to hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands of years. Fault scarps are created by earthquakes, submarine landslides, terrestrial avalanches and mudflows. They can generate deadly tsunamis and are created in seconds to minutes.

The Earth's geoid or equipotential gravity surface is equal to mean sea level and defines the ultimate base level for our planet's geomorphic processes. In this class we will also explore how landscapes have developed on other planetary bodies such as our moon, Mars, Venus, and Europa where internal planetary energy may be negligible and no liquid water exists on the surface.

Humans are now a geomorphic force on this planet. We are directly causing an increase in the rate and extent of landscape resurfacing by our activities of land disturbance through agriculture, mining, road building, paving of urban areas, and logging. Our fossil fuel burning is changing the climate, diminishing surface ice and generating landscape and ecological responses as Earth's albedo changes in polar regions, as plant communities change their geographic distribution, as increased weathering and stream erosion redistributes topsoils, and sea level rises to drown low-lying coastal areas. The discipline of geomorphology will provide you with the tools to quantitatively understand these processes and the changes they create in order to live wisely with the realities of flowing water under the force of gravity on our dynamic planetary surface.

Course URL: https://uascentral.uas.alaska.edu/online/GEOL301-J01?term=Spring-2007&behavior=UAS&session=982977
Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Geomorphology, Geoscience
Resource Type: Course Information:Goals/Syllabi
Special Interest: GIS
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16), College Lower (13-14)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:GIS/Remote Sensing, Geomorphology
Course Type: Upper Level:Geomorphology/Surface Processes, Entry Level:Earth System Science
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper division 3 credit lecture, 1 credit lab semester (15 week) course required for Environmental Science majors, and soon majors in the Alaska statewide geography program.

Course Goals:

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Skills Goals

UAS Competencies Incorporated into this Course http://www.uas.alaska.edu/provost/assessment/competencies.htm
Upper Division, Baccalaureate in Science degree, caliber skills in the following areas will be taught and assessed in this course.

  1. Communication: Students will lead 2 discussion groups and give a class presentation about their individual research projects.
  2. Quantitative skills: Quantitative Geomorphology tools will be developed in weekly labs and through student geomorphology projects which will require weekly data collection and analysis.
  3. Information Literacy: Students will locate pertinent information in scientific literature using GEOREF and other EGAN Library databases. Students will locate pertinent satellite imagery, aerial photographs, maps, and data on the World Wide Web.
  4. Computer Usage: Students will use ARCGIS software, satellite imagery software (ERDAS IMAGINE), geology software (ROCKWARE), and be able to work with numerical datasets in MS Office programs. We will also be using GEOWALL to view 3-D landscapes
  5. Professional Behavior: Students will be expected to be responsible in their class and lab attendance. Each will complete and turn in assignments punctually and treat their colleagues with respect. Students will demonstrate professional ethics in decision making and honesty in exam-taking.
  6. Critical Thinking: A successful geomorphology student will develop skills to synthesize landscape information from class, text, scientific journals, and lab exercise questions. He/she will utilize information synthesis in his/her individual semester project to demonstrate skills in conceptualizing, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating in the project's design, field work, analysis of data, write-up, and class presentation.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Weekly class presentations and discussions, field trips, lab exercises, homework assignments, and class mini and semester end presentations on geomorphic topics of interest to you will provide the course structure to attain goals and develop skills. You will be assessed on all homework and lab assignments, as well as by a mid-term, and your class presentations (mini seminars and final GEOWALL project).

Attitudinal Goals


Evaluation of work on assignments and quality of student creativity and demonstrated understanding through class presentations and discussion.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 272kB Jul17 08)

Other Materials (Acrobat (PDF) 26kB Jul17 08)

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