Drainage Basins Field Lab

Jeff Marshall
Cal Poly Pomona University, Geological Sciences Dept.
Author Profile


This field activity and follow-up assignment explores the geomorphology of drainage basins in an active tectonic setting. It introduces basic concepts of drainage basin structure and landscape analysis using morphometric indices.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



undergraduate course in geomorphology

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

topographic maps, topographic profiles

How the activity is situated in the course

second exercise in the course (following topo maps and air photos) and first field activity in a series of exercises in the same general field area.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

recognizing form and function of drainage basins, analyzing drainage basin morphology and equilibrium, calculating morphometric indices, interpreting landscape response to tectonics

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

recognizing sensitivity of fluvial networks to landscape forcing (tectonics/climate), interpreting geometric significance of quantitative measurements, synthesizing several data sets to formulate hypotheses on landscape evolution (especially with respect to active tectonics)

Other skills goals for this activity

students must write a report that presents their results and interpretations

Description of the activity/assignment

This exercise begins with a field trip to the San Gabriel Mountain foothills near our campus. Students are given a set of topographic maps and asked to follow our progress as we hike into a small drainage basin in the Claremont Wilderness Park. Through interactive discussion, we explore regional landscape and the geomorphic form, function, and processes of a drainage basin system. Students are expected to complete their assignment on drainage basin analysis during the following week, working from the maps provided. Students are asked to identify the basic landscape units in the San Gabriel Mountain foothill region, delineate a set of drainage basins, and analyze the geomorphic characteristics of these basins using longitudinal profiles and morphometric indices. From this information, they are expected to draw basic conclusions about the geomorphic processes affecting this landscape system, and its relative state of equilibrium.
Designed for a geomorphology course

Determining whether students have met the goals

examine maps, illustrations, and final report. Rate these relative to classmates

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials