Humans as Geomorphic Agents

Catherine Riihimaki
Drew University
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Initial Publication Date: May 2, 2008 | Reviewed: November 3, 2013


An introduction to order-of-magnitude calculations and reading quantitative journal articles.

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Introductory quantitative course in environmental science

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Comfort with algebra

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the first problem set of the semester


Content/concepts goals for this activity

understanding order-of-magnitude calculations and dimensional analysis

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

critical reading skills of peer-reviewed literature, connecting calculus concepts to plot interpretation

Other skills goals for this activity

group discussion of peer-reviewed article

Description of the activity/assignment

1) The students read an article from the literature on humans as geomorphic agents as an introduction to order-of-magnitude calculations.
2) The class discusses the article in a 50-minute class
3) The students complete a problem set that introduces them to dimensional analysis, walks them through a comparison of the article's results to natural geomorphic rates, and explores how the author derived the article's final numbers.
4) Once the students are done with the problem set, the class discusses the results and implications as a group.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Evaluation is based on the problem set answers and the quality of the discussion.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

The students read:
Hooke, R.L., 2000, On the history of humans as geomorphic agents: Geology, v. 28, p. 843-846.

Some data comes from:
Hallet, B., Hunter, L., and Bogen, J., 1996, Rates of erosion and sediment evacuation by glaciers: A review of field data and their implications: Global and Planetary Change, v. 12, p. 213-235.