Teach the Earth > Parallel Computing in the Computer Science Curriculum > Workshops > SIGCSE 2012 > SIGCSE 2012 > Water and Mud: Linking hydrogeology and landscape change

Water and Mud: Linking hydrogeology and landscape change

Kyle Nichols
Skidmore College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
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This page first made public: Jul 4, 2005


Hydrogeology textbooks usually do a poor job in linking groundwater to Earth's surface processes, yet the two are closely linked. It is important for the hydrogeology student to understand that surface and subsurface water play a role in shaping the land where they live. This session will demonstrate the importance of hydrogeology on the rates and styles of landscape change through simple numerical models and by using a case-study of a local landslide.

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This assignment is designed for an undergraduate hydrogeology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be familiar with the concepts of hydraulic conductivity, infiltration rate, and should know the basics of MS Excel.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand alone exercise that is designed to link the concepts of groundwater movement to landscape stability by using a simple MS Excel model.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals of this activity include, understand groundwater as an agent in Earth's surface processes, rates of infiltration, and the link between groundwater and natural hazards.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This is an introductory exercise, however the student are required to analyze the infinite hillslope equation and to synthesize their results with other disciplines.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This exercise demonstrates the role of groundwater in Earth's surface processes and natural hazards through a simple sensitivity analysis using Excel and a case study of a landslide in glacial sediments. In the first part of the exercise, students use a spreadsheet to model the infinite slope equation to determine which variables are sensitive to change. In this part of the exercise students discover the relationship and importance between hydrogeology and Earth's surface processes. In the second part of the exercise students use a case study, of a landslide that occurred in glacial sediments, to calculate the lag time between precipitation events and slope failure. This exercise highlights the relationship between groundwater and natural hazards. Finally, students combine their knowledge of both exercises and use the infinite slope equation to predict the percent of ground saturation for the landslide case study.

Determining whether students have met the goals

If the students demonstrate an understanding through their answers.

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