Exercise 8: Nevada Mines analysis – choosing water sampling sites to test for possible water contamination

Barbara and David Tewksbury, Hamilton College


Students use an EPA data set of Nevada mines to evaluate proximity of mine sites to streams to choose priority water sampling sites to evaluate for possible contamination. Students export data to Google Earth to use satellite imagery to narrow the priority sites further. You might also be interested in our Full GIS course with links to all assignments.


Type and level of course
Entry level GIS course for geoscience students.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment
Limited knowledge of water pollution from mine sites.

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment
Dealing with projections and coordinate systems, hillshading and colorizing a DEM, cropping a DEM to an outline, working with attribute tables and selecting by atttibute, symbolizing, buffering, creating work flow charts, using data frames, creating map layouts.

Software required for this assignment/activity:
ArcGIS 10.4 or higher, with Spatial Analyst extension; Google Earth.

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
One week of class time plus homework.


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
Creating Euclidean distance rasters, making shapefiles from buffers, making multiple ring buffers, exporting data to .kml/.kmz format, adding placemarks and doing screen captures in Google Earth.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity
Practice using ArcMap Help and Search functions.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Analysis of multiple data sets to prioritize sampling targets.

Description of the activity/assignment

This is Exercise 8 in a semester-long GIS for Geoscientists course. You can find the other exercises in this series on the course summary page or by typing Tewksbury GIS Exercise into the Cutting Edge search engine.

The EPA has a great georeferenced data set of over 8000 mine shafts in Nevada (although it is now on an archived web page - hopefully it will continue to be available), and this exercise tasks students with using distance rasters and buffering to determine which mine shafts in Nevada are closest to streams and rivers and to make a priority list of locations to target for water sampling to test for mine-related water contamination.

Once students have made an initial priority list of targets based on proximity to streams, they use the Layer to KML tool in ArcMap to export their data to Google Earth so that they can use readily available high resolution satellite imagery to further narrow their priority list of targets based on what they can see in the satellite imagery (e.g., adjacent or downstream towns and cities, major mining districts, etc.). They turn in a final recommendation supported by a rationale, ArcMap, and Google Eath screen captures.

Exercise 8a: Homework with background reading on contamination of surface water in mining areas and on Nevada Bureau of Mining and Reclamation oversight and regulations, plus pre-project planning.

Exercise 8b: Homework assignment for downloading data sets for the exercise from the National Atlas and the EPA site, prepping the data, and creating a base map.

Exercise 8c: In-class work exploring a variety of ways of selecting targets for water sampling).

Exercise 8d: Homework assignment for each student to develop a short, well-illustrated elevator talk to summarize rationale behind selected critical water sampling targets. Presentations given and critiqued in following class.

Determining whether students have met the goals

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

URLs and References

Student work is assessed on the basis of the quality and completeness of their ArcMaps, the rationale for the priority list, and the presentation of the recommendation.

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Other Materials

Exercise 6: Nevada Mines analysis – choosing water sampling sites to test for possible water contamination -- Discussion  

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