Process Geomorphology

David A. Franzi

SUNY Plattsburgh
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Geomorphic Processes is a fundamental Its subject matter analyzes Earth systems and their responses to change and demonstrates how surface deposits, landforms and landscapes can be used to interpret Earth history. Geomorphic processes create the physical infrastructure or habitat templates for ecosystems and thus are also integral, although often undervalued, part of ecosystem research.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

Geomorphic Processes is upper-division elective for all geology and environmental science courses offered by the Center for Earth and Environmental Science (CEES). Geology majors, including secondary education earth science students, typically comprise 40-50% of course enrollment. The remainder (50-60%) are predominantly environmental science or ecology students, many of whom take minors in geology or hydrogeology. Many non-geology students go on to take at least one additional surface-process geology course (i.e. hydrology, ground water hydrogeology or environmental geotechnology) as part of their undergraduate curriculum.

Geomorphic Processes has been taught as a 3-credit lecture-only course since the mid-1990's. A laboratory component will be added beginning in Fall 2008.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to;
  • Apply the system concept to geomorphic systems (or any biological, chemical or physical system) and predict system responses to changes in external forces;
  • Design and implement a geomorphologic research project;
  • Analyze geomorphological data from topographic and geologic maps, geological cross sections of the Earth's crust and field exposures of geological materials;
  • Synthesize geomorphic data and formulate models for system function;
  • Formulate linkages between different geomorphic processes and systems;

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

A comprehensive introduction to geomorphic systems (e.g. system variables, response mechanisms, equilibrium, temporal and spatial scales and etc.) is presented in the first two weeks of the course and system concepts are reinforced throughout the semester in laboratory projects and lectures dealing with specific geomorphic subdisciplines. (NB: a laboratory component will be added to this course beginning in the Fall 2008 semester).

The laboratory component will consist of 3-4 project-based exercises. Students will be presented with a research question at the beginning of each exercise and will work together to design an analytical approach and work plan. Over the next few weeks students will conduct library research on the topic and work together or in small groups over collect and analyze the requisite data. Each student is responsible for an independent synthesis and written report. Reports are evaluated on their scientific content and effective writing.

These goal is assessed by evaluating improvement of student responses on essay exam questions and laboratory report discussions. Students will also be asked to provide their perceptions of the value of the course to their discipline, its overall impact on their academic preparation and a self-evaluation of their progress on end-of-semester course evaluations.

Skills Goals

Students will be able to;
  • extract and analyze geomorphic information from topographic and geological maps, geological cross sections, GIS databases or field measurements;
  • improve quantitative skills (homework exercises, field and laboratory exercises and laboratory projects)
  • communicate effectively the results of a geomorphic study in oral and written forms;

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

These goals will be addressed primarily in laboratory performance and written laboratory reports. Assessment will be based on overall quality or improvement in the student's ability to conduct and present the results of a geomorphic investigation.

Attitudinal Goals

Student's should be able to;
  • Relate natural geological processes to natural hazards (for example earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and hurricanes), and contemporary social issues such as energy and mineral resources, ground and surface water resources, pollution, and global climate change;
  • Make informed decisions about issues dealing with our physical environment and act to make the world a better place for everyone.


Student learning is assessed on the quality of writing assignments (especially lab reports), problem sets, exam performance (esp. essay question responses) and class participation (esp. in-class discussions and laboratory exercises). See also attached course outline and syllabus.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 54kB May5 08)

Other Materials (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB May5 08)