Teach the Earth > Geodesy > Teaching Activities > Accessing Streamflow Data via the Worldwide Web

Accessing Streamflow Data via the Worldwide Web

John Pitlick
University of Colorado
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  1. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

    Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review 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.

  2. 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: Nov 18, 2011


The objectives of this exercise are to (a) use the worldwide web to access hydrologic data, and (b) compare precipitation/runoff characteristics in different regions of the USA.

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Introductory physical geography course with a mix of majors and non-majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The should know how to use Microsoft EXCEL.

How the activity is situated in the course

Stand-alone exercise


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Develop predictive relations for streamflow based on characteristics of drainage basins which are easily measured, e.g. drainage area, mean annual precipitation and average basin slope.
  • Analyze long-terms trends in precipitation in two areas of the USA

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Interpretation of plots and graphical relations between two or more variables.
  • Hypothesis tests involving statistical tests of significance

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This is a computer-based activity in which students retrieve data from websites maintained by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the National Weather Service (NWS), and then use that data to test different hypotheses regarding streamflow and precipitation. Students import data from web sites into a spreadsheet program where they can construct scatter plots and perform simple statistical tests. The activity has two components, the first focusing on relations between streamflow and drainage basin characteristics (drainage area, slope, precipitation), the second focusing on trends in annual precipitation at two locations in the USA: Burlington, VT, and Boulder, CO. As part of the second component, students conduct a statistical test to determine if the long-term trends in precipitation are significant.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students make a series of graphs and answer questions and then submit the material as one written assignment; the assignment is graded the same as other lab assignments.

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