Quantitative Skills > Teaching Resources > Activities > Flooding in the Finger Lakes Region, NY

Flooding in the Finger Lakes Region, NY

Tara M. Curtin, Hobart & William Smith Colleges
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This page first made public: Jul 20, 2006

Summary

In this several week-long introductory geoscience project, students evaluate the potential for flooding in the local region. Students visit the site during the first week of the semester as part of a "Walk in the Watershed" and make observations in order to generate hypotheses about the processes that shape the landscape and control the movement of water. During a later lab period, students return to the same site to determine stream discharge using the flotation and current meter methods and compare and contrast the results from the two methods. In addition, students in the different laboratory sections use their data to compare and contrast reasons for why discharge may have changed over the course of the day or week during the following class meeting. As an in-class exercise, students examine an annual hydrograph and then predict the weather that generated the observed stream discharge. Students test their hypotheses by analyzing precipitation data available on-line in order to correlate flood events with storm types or other causes for major discharge events. Next, students examine historical flood and discharge data of the local stream available on-line at http://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/ as a homework assignment. In addition to calculating the recurrence interval and probability of occurrence for each event, students determine the discharge and stage of a 1-, 10-, 50-, and 100-year flood, create a rating curve, and generate a floodway map for each of these events. Subsequently, students revisit the site during lab and locate the boundaries of these flood events. Students will make recommendations for building a house in the region based on their analyses.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

This several week long project (3 field laboratory assignments, 2 homework exercises, 2 in-class assignments) is developed for an introductory-level geoscience course (no pre-requisites) entitled "The Fluid Earth" offered at a primarily undergraduate institution. The class typically has an enrollment between 36 and 50 students who have little to no math or science background. By this time in the course, students will have had practice with unit conversion, using their calculators, and manipulating data and creating graphs using Excel.

Description and Teaching Materials

  1. Field laboratory entitled "A Walk in the Watershed" is to introduce students to the local watershed, the focus of the entire course
  2. Field laboratory to determine stream discharge using the float and current meter methods
  3. n-class discussion where students in the different laboratory sections use their data to compare and contrast reasons for why discharge may have changed over the course of the day and week
  4. In-class exercise that asks students to examine an annual hydrograph from the same stream to predict the past weather based on the stream discharge data
  5. Follow-up homework exercise that allows students to test their hypotheses generated during class by comparing stream discharge data with precipitation data available on-line
  6. Flood homework exercise is used to show the relationship between discharge and stage and determine the discharge and stage of the 1-, 20-, 50-, and 100- year flood
  7. Compare with past major storm events in the region based on data available on-line to determine the typical timing and type of major storms that produce an increase in stream discharge
  8. Students generate floodway maps to determine areas that were flodded during these events and then go andreturn to the field to examine these regions
  9. Recommend area to build home and support reasons with data from the exercises above

Teaching Notes and Tips

Assessment

References and Resources

Data from the USGS gage station are available at: http://water.usgs.gov.

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