Rivers and Floods in Tampa FL on the Sulphur Springs Quadrangle

Eileen Herrstrom
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Author Profile


This activity takes place in a laboratory setting and requires ~1.5-2 hours to complete. Students study a topographic map, draw drainage divides, calculate recurrence intervals for two streams, create a recurrence curve, and interpret several curves. This is the first of two activities that use the Sulphur Springs quadrangle.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



Undergraduate class on introductory physical geology, natural disasters, or geology and society

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Must know how to read topographic maps and have basic skills using Microsoft Excel (entering formulas, filling down, making charts)

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a laboratory exercise that follows lectures on rivers and floods. It falls near the end of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Describe the general topography of the Sulphur Springs Fl quadrangle, identify drainage divides on the map, differentiate between tributary and trunk streams in terms of map view and flood potential

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Calculate flood frequency and probability for two steams and create a recurrence graph using Microsoft Excel, interpret the results, compare recurrence curves for the trunk river and a tributary stream

Other skills goals for this activity

Determine the reason for high discharges on particular dates, compare responses of the trunk river and a tributary stream, and apply the knowledge gained to decide whether to purchase property

Description of the activity/assignment

Student materials for this exercise include a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with peak discharge data for the Hillsborough River and Curiosity Creek, a .zip file containing two versions (PDF and JPG) of the topographic map of the Sulphur Springs quadrangle, and a simplified sketch map of the quadrangle. The exercise is divided into three parts.

In Part I, students study the Sulphur Springs topographic quadrangle to gain a general idea of the landscape. The students identify drainage divides on the quadrangle and outline the drainage basins on the sketch map.

Part II includes calculating the frequency and probability of various sized floods and creating a recurrence curve using Microsoft Excel charts. Students apply their knowledge to decide whether to buy a house on the floodplain of the Hillsborough River.

In Part III, students use their results to interpret the potential for flooding along the main river and one of its tributaries. Students compare recurrence curves to deduce that having more years of data leads to a more reliable flood forecast. They search online to determine the reasons for particular floods and contrast the effects on the two streams.

Determining whether students have met the goals

As originally designed for a traditional face-to-face course, this activity is assessed by the quality of the drainage divides on the sketch map and the answers to the questions. In the online version, only the answers to questions are used to assess student understanding of the exercise, but these questions include choosing the correct map views. It is also possible to have students submit their completed spreadsheets, although this option works best in a small class.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

USGS Sulphur Springs FL quadrangle 1:24000 (1995) https://ngmdb.usgs.gov/topoview/viewer/#15/28.0233/-82.4474

US Geological Survey Surface-Water Data for the Nation https://nwis.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/sw (Hillsborough River Site Number 02303330, Curiosity Creek Site Number 02305851, and Cypress Creek Site Number 2303800 are used in the exercise.)

Curiosity Creek Watershed Management Plan Update https://s3.amazonaws.com/wateratlasimages/679_CuriosityCreek2005MgtPlan.pdf

Watershed Excursion of the Hillsborough River https://web.archive.org/web/20151029025036/http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/education/interactive/watershed/index.html