Teach the Earth > Introductory Courses > Activities > Calculation of Stream Discharge

Calculation of Stream Discharge

Bruce Rueger
Colby 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
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 21, 2008


This lab is a field oriented exercise that visits two sites on the same stream to calculate stream discharge. It illustrates the influences of stream cross-sectional area on discharge and the resistance of bedrock in forming waterfalls. Students learn how to locate themselves using topographic maps and hand held GPS units. The lab also focuses on stream geomorphology and terminology.

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This exercise is used in an introductory physical geology course {Earth and the Environment).

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Essentially all they need to know how to do is basic math and have some basic skills using topographic maps.

How the activity is situated in the course

Because of the weather, this activity is done early in the semester (in the Fall) and late in the semester (in the Spring).


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary goal is for them to understand the concept of stream discharge. Ancillary goals include understanding the components of a stream and stream flow, use of topographic maps and GPS units for navigation, and collecting and utilizing data in the field.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The higher order thinking skills for this activity include accuracy of measurement, field observation and analysis of data.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students learn how to measure stream depth and how to use a velocity meter. They also learn how to use a GPS device. They work in groups to collect the data.

Description of the activity/assignment

This is a field based exercise that exposes students to streams as a major agent of erosion and to methods of quantifying stream discharge by collecting data in the field. Students also apply basic navigation skills by using hand-held GPS devices and plotting longitude and latitude of the field sites under investigation.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students collect and record data in the field. They then use the data to determine stream discharge. They present their results in a lab report.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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