Geomorphology: Were Earth-like river processes ever present on Mars?

Laurel Goodell,


Students compare rivers on Earth to channel-like features on Mars, and consider whether Earth-like river processes were ever present on Mars.


Type and level of course
Entry level physical geology course for students interested in majoring in the geosciences.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment
This laboratory activity takes place late in the semester when students already completed field trips to map the local geology, understand relative dating of geologic events, and become familiar with the local stream (discharge history, characteristics of the stream, its flood plain and drainage basin, and evidence for high-water events).

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment

Software required for this assignment/activity:
ArcView 9.1, with Spatial Analyst and 3D Analyst

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
3 hour lab period and several hours outside of class


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
Become introduced to GIS as a tool, and learn some basic GIS skills.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity
To become familiar with geomorphologic features of rivers on earth, compare them to channels on Mars, and learn about the "geo"logy of Mars.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Critically evaluate data (resolution, placement of drainage systems vs. DEM data), compare

Description of the activity/assignment

Students come to this activity having already familiar with the local bedrock geology, and our local stream (it's discharge history and characteristics of the stream, its drainage basin and floodplain, and high-water events. In class, students are introduced to GIS and ArcView, and then use ArcMap to analyze the stream gradient, stream order, and drainage density of Stony Brook. Then students do the same for several major North American rivers. Finally, they move on to Mars, become familiar with some Martian data sets, and use the same tools to compare characteristics of channel-like features on the surface of Mars, to river systems on Earth. The overall task is to synthesize this information and discuss/give evidence for whether or not Earth-like river processes ever operated on Mars.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students submit a lab report, which is evaluated.
More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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