Pedagogy in Action > Library > Field Labs > Field Lab Examples > Aquifers in outcrop

Studying Aquifers in Outcrop

Mary Savina, Carleton College
Author Profile

This resource received an Accept or Accept with minor revisions rating from a Panel Peer Review process

These materials were reviewed using face-to-face NSF-style review panel of geoscience and geoscience education experts to review groups of resources addressing a single theme. Panelists wrote reviews that addressed the criteria:

  1. scientific accuracy and currency
  2. usability and
  3. pedagogical effectiveness
Reviewers rated the resources:
  1. Accept
  2. Accept with minor revisions
  3. Accept with major revisions, or
  4. Reject.
They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.

This page first made public: Sep 7, 2006

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


In this field lab, students describe two (or more) different rock types in outcrop, with an emphasis on the hydrogeologic properties of the rocks. The field lab culminates with a paper that may be a layperson's account of aquifer behavior, a scientific report on the outcrops studied or a number of other models.

Learning Goals


  • Visualizing ground water flow


  • Observation, sketching and description of outcrop features
  • Correlating stratigraphic, post-depositional and structural features with groundwater flow
  • Explaining a scientific phenomenon (groundwater flow) in layperson's terms
  • Estimating rates of groundwater movement

Context for Use

This lab can be used to augment or replace more traditional outcrop descriptions. In a physical geology course, it might become a field lab on local stratigraphy. In an environmental geology course, it might substitute for a local stratigraphy lab.

I use this lab in tandem with a pump test exercise. Each works perfectly well on its own, too.

This lab can take between two and four hours.

Equipment needs:

  • Meter sticks or staffs marked in decimeters or tape measures
  • compasses
  • bottles of water (optional)

Description and Teaching Materials

This pdf file (Acrobat (PDF) 11kB Sep7 06) is a sample field lab handout for this exercise.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Depending on how detailed you want the students' descriptions of the outcrop features to be, this lab can take anywhere from two hours to more than four hours. Three hours (about an hour at each of two exposures with travel time in between) is enough time for students to describe the rock features, do some sketching, ask questions, take notes and understand the major hydrogeological implications of the outcrops. It is not enough time to construct detailed stratigraphic sections of more than a meter, particularly in a rock unit as complex as the Jordan Formation (a major aquifer in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin). As an instructor, you will have to decide on your priorities and convey them to the students.

Because the concept of "aquifer" is a difficult one for both students and the general public, an interesting assignment based on this field lab is to have students write a commentary piece for the campus or town newspaper, describing how water moves through the ground, what an aquifer is, and why people should care about aquifers.


Students' sketches, detailed stratigraphic sections and writing based on this field lab can be assessed for understanding, clarity of diagrams and writing, and accuracy (both of concepts and of the specifics of the units). This lab also forms a good basis for written essay quiz and exam questions.