Teach the Earth > Geomorphology > Teaching Activities > Geomorphology Field Research Project

Geomorphology Field Research Project

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

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the 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.

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: May 2, 2008


This research project allows students to integrate and apply their geomorphic knowledge in a comprehensive study of a local landscape. Working in teams, they investigate uplifted alluvial deposits along the tectonically active San Gabriel Mountain foothills. Teams present their research results in an oral presentation and a written report.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



undergraduate course in geomorphology

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

This is a capstone project that allows students to synthesize and apply all prior course learning

How the activity is situated in the course

culminating project


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Ths is a capstone activity that synthesizes a wide area of course content and geomorphic concepts. Students must master basic topographic map and aerial photo interpretation, geomorphic field mapping, surveying profiles and measuring section, alluvial sediment description, soil profile description. They must also develop an understanding of the role of tectonics and climate in landscape change, and the significance of such concepts as base level and longitudinal profiles, thrust faulting and basement uplift, weathering and pedogenesis, etc

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

integrating classroom learning (multiple concepts) into a comprehensive field project, developing multiple working hypotheses, collecting, presenting, and interpreting multiple data sets, developing a consistent model for landscape evolution based on field results.

Other skills goals for this activity

conducting background literature research, applying basic geomorphic field skills, preparing illustrations, writing a professional report, and giving an oral presentation.

Description of the activity/assignment

The goal of this research project is to allow students to integrate and apply their geomorphic knowledge in a comprehensive study of a local landscape system. In this project, students investigate the origin and significance of a series of flat-topped mesas and isolated hills that rise above the gently sloping surface of alluvial fans along the San Gabriel Mountain foothills. Students work as part of a research team of 3 or 4 members. Each team is assigned a different field area and conduct a comprehensive geomorphic investigation of landforms within that area. Team members are expected to work collaboratively to formulate a research plan, complete a background literature search, and conduct independent fieldwork outside of class time. Each team divides up responsibilities as they see fit. At the end of the quarter, each team presents the results of their research in an oral presentation in front of the class, and in a professional written report submitted to the professor.
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.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Course Text Book:

Ritter, D.F., Kochel, R.C., and Miller, J.R., 2002, Process Geomorphology, Fourth Edition: New York, New York, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 560 p.

Research papers & reports:

Baird, A., 1956, Geology of a portion of San Antonio Canyon, San Gabriel Mountains, California [M.S. Thesis], Pomona College, Claremont, California, 91 p.

Eckis, R., 1928, Alluvial fans of the Cucamonga District, southern California: Journal of Geology, v. 36, no. 3, p. 224-247.

Morton, D.M., Matti, J.C., and Tinsley, J.C., 1987, Cucamonga fault zone scarps, Day Canyon alluvial fan, eastern San Gabriel Mountains, southern California, in Hill, M.L., ed., Geological Society of America Centennial Field Guide, Volume 1, Cordilleran Section, p. 199-200.

Ritter, J.B., Miller, J.R., Enzel, Y. and Wells, S.G., 1995, Reconciling the roles of tectonism and climate in Quaternary alluvial fan evolution: Geology, v. 23, p. 245-248.

Schumm, S.A., Baker, V.R., Bowker, M.F., Dixon, J.R., Dunne, T., Hamilton, D., Hjalmarson, H.W., and Merritts, D., 1996, Alluvial Fan Flooding: Washington, D.C., National Research Council, National Academy Press, 172 p.

Shelton, J.S., 1955, Glendora volcanic rocks, Los Angeles basin, California: Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 66, p. 45-90.

Tinsley, J.C., Matti, J.C., and McFadden, L.D., 1982, Late Quaternary pedogenesis and alluvial chronologies of the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Mountains areas, Southern California, and Holocene faulting and alluvial stratigraphy within the Cucamonga fault zone: A preliminary view: Geological Society of America Cordilleran Section Guidebook, Field Trip 12, 44 p.

Van Buskirk, M.C. and Brooks, D.A., 1994, Geology and Geophysics of the Sierra Madre—Cucamonga Fault Zone, San Gabriel Mountains, California, in McGill, S.F. and Ross, T.M., eds., Geological Investigations of and Active Margin, 1994 Geological Society of America Cordilleran Section Guidebook, Trip 5, p. 82-93.

A few useful web sites:




New TTE Logo Small

Teaching in the Field resources from across Teach the Earth »

Teaching in the Field resources from Teach the Earth include:

Specialized collections including

or search

Geomorphology resources from across Teach the Earth »

Geomorphology resources from Teach the Earth include:

Specialized collections including

or search

Plate Tectonics resources from across Teach the Earth »

Plate Tectonics resources from Teach the Earth include:

Specialized collections including

or search

NAGT Join small

As a frequent visitor please consider joining the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. Your NAGT membership will help ensure this site can continue to offer access to high-quality geoscience education materials.

  Join NAGT Today »

Already an NAGT member? Login now to avoid these messages in the future.