Using Wetlands to Teach Hydrogeology

Catherine A. Carlson
Eastern Connecticut State University
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Field exercises (surface-water, vadose-zone, and groundwater hydrology), in which students generate their own data throughout the semester, are presented for teaching hydrogeological concepts, techniques, and reasoning in the context of a wetland field site.

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I use these field labs in a required, junior-level hydrology course for majors, but they could be adapted for use at other levels.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The field labs cover a wide range of hydrologic concepts. Refer to each lab to determine the skills and concepts students need to complete the lab.

How the activity is situated in the course

These field labs are incorporated throughout the semester. Used together, they provide students with an integrated approach to studying and understanding the hydrogeology of a field site.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The content/concept goals of these activities include stream discharge, seepage/baseflow, infiltration, field-saturated hydraulic conductivity, groundwater flow (direction, gradient, and specific discharge), and groundwater/surface-water interaction.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Thinking goals include design and collection of field data, data analysis, data interpretation, assessing multiple working hypotheses, well written reports, and integration of various hydrological concepts into a unified understanding of hydrological processes at work in a field site.

Other skills goals for this activity

Other goals include experience with standard hydrological equipment and methods, basic surveying techniques, writing effective field notes, understanding the reliability and precision of field data, and teamwork.

Description of the activity/assignment

Wetlands provide an ideal field hydrology laboratory because the water table is so close to the land surface. Eight field exercises, in which students generate their own data, are presented that demonstrate surface-water, vadose-zone, and groundwater hydrology concepts. Standard field equipment and methods are used to conduct investigations including measuring stream discharge, estimating groundwater seepage to a stream and/or pond, preparing a topographic profile showing the water-table configuration, measuring infiltration rates and estimating constant infiltration capacity, measuring field-saturated hydraulic conductivity, estimating hydraulic conductivity from slug tests, and determining the direction, hydraulic gradient, and specific discharge of groundwater. These labs compliment lecture material commonly covered in a first semester hydrology course.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Labs are graded based on completeness and correctness of the lab report. That is, the lab report must include concise text that answers all pertinent questions associated with "what did you do?" and "what did you find out?" as well as pertinent figures, tables, references, appendices, original field notes, and equipment list. The text usually represents at least 20% of the overall grade to emphasize the importance of communicating scientific results. The original field notes usually represent 10% of the overall grade to emphasize the importance of preparing complete and legible field notes that may become part of a permanent legal record. The remaining 70% or less is divided among the remaining required components (figures, tables, references, appendices, and equipment list); the specific percentages should be determined according to what is being emphasized in each specific lab and how many components are being required (e.g., if there are multiple figures, this component might carry more weight than other components).

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Sanders, L.L., 1998, A Manual of Field Hydrogeology. Prentice-Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 381 p.

U.S. Geological Survey, National Water Information System (NWISWeb)

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