Watershed Delineation and Geomorphic Characterization

David Franzi
SUNY Plattsburgh
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This exercise was designed for an integrated laboratory course "Applied Environmental Geology". It is the first in a series of lab projects designed to apply hydrogeological principles and methods to study the failure of a hydroelectric dam built ca. 1910-15.

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This exercise was designed for an upper-division, project-based laboratory course (Applied Environmental Geology) for geology and environmental science majors. The course is no longer taught but its content (and some of the projects) will be integrated into new lab components for the Process Geomorphology and Environmental Geotechnology courses in 2008-09. The exercise described below will be modified for inclusion in Process Geomorphology Laboratory this fall.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Prerequisites for "Applied Environmental Geology" included Physical Geology and at least one of the following upper-division geology courses; Process Geomorphology, Environmental Geology or Hydrology.

Students were expected to have basic quantitative skills and a working knowledge of spreadsheets. Previous experience with GIS software was very helpful but not required. Students with no prior GIS experience were teamed with at least one other student who had these skills.

How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise was the first in a series that dealt with the hydrogeology of the Little Chazy River and the Miner dam hydroelectric project (ca. 1910-15). Subsequent lab exercises included "Evapotranspiration", "Stream Gaging and Hydrographs" and "Ground Water Seepage". Individual reports became components of a culminating project report that synthesized the individual components to address the cause of dam failure.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

1. Extract geomorphic data from primary sources (i.e. topographic and geologic maps, aerial photos and etc.)

2. Calculate morphologic indexes from primary data

3. Delineate and digitize watersheds using GIS software

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

1. Students analyze the data they collect with geological data provided from other sources to formulate hypotheses about form and process.

2. The data and skills from this exercise are used in later exercises to synthesize hydrologic models of watershed function.

Other skills goals for this activity

1. Students work in small groups to collect and analyze data. Peer instruction is encouraged.

2. Student reports are evaluated for geological content and writing effectiveness.

Description of the activity/assignment

The first lab exercise was preceded by an all day field trip that introduced the surficial and bedrock geology, geological history and the hydrologic and meteorologic instrumentation in the watershed. In the first lab meeting students were introduced to the research question (i.e. What hydrogeological conditions contributed to the failure of the W.H. Miner hydroeletric dam?) and to the specific goals and objectives of the first exercise. The series of exercises introduced geomorphic and hydrogeologic methods of analysis, provided experience with field and laboratory instrumentation and technologies, reinforced quantitative and communication skills and gave students the opportunity to collect and analyze their own data to solve a real-world problem.
Addresses student fear of quantitative aspect and/or inadequate quantitative skills
Uses geomorphology to solve problems in other fields

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are evaluated on their level of class participation, the quality of their written reports and overall improvent in these areas over the course of the project.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Dorava, J.M., Mongomery, D.R., Palcsak, B.B., and Fitzpatrick, F.A. (Editors), 2001, Geomorphic Processes and Riverine Habitat: Water Science and Application 4, American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C., 253p.

Gordon, N.D., McMahon, T.A., Finlayson, B.L., Gippel, C.J., Nathan, R.J., 2004, Stream Hydrology: An Introduction for Ecologists (2nd Edition): Wiley and Sons, New York, 444p.

Knighton, D., 1998, Fluvial Forms and Processes : A New Perspective: Oxford University Press, New York, 383p. London

McCuen, R.H., 2004, Hydrologic Analysis and Design, Third Edition: Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 888p.

Singh, V.J., 1988, Hydrologic Systems V.II Watershed Modeling: Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 320p.

Wigmosta, M.S. and Burgess, S.J. (Editors), 2001, Land Use and Watersheds, Human Influence on Hydrology and Geomorphology in Urban and Forest Areas: Water Science and Application 2, American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C., 227p.