Barrier Islands and Coastal Geomorphology

Mark Bowen
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
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Initial Publication Date: November 24, 2014 | Reviewed: July 21, 2015


Students use Google Earth to evaluate barrier island evolution and migration and identify coastal landforms.

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The activity is used in an online undergraduate introductory physical geography course. The focus of the course is landforms and soils. The course is predominantly composed of non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should be familiar with the basic tools and functions of Google Earth

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone exercise that reinforces concepts introduced in lecture.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Utilize historical aerial imagery to measure change in landform position over time
  • Calculate migration rates of barrier islands
  • Determine direction of longshore currents
  • Identify coastal landforms using Google Earth

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students utilize the historical imagery function in Google Earth to determine the position of a barrier island on two different images collected in 1995 and 2013; they also compare to different topographic maps, one created in 1994 and the other in 2011. They use the measure tool in Google Earth to determine how far the island has migrated. They then calculate the migration rate, how far it would migrate in a give time period, and how long it would take to migrate a given distance. Finally, students navigate to a variety of locations to identify coastal landforms.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete the exercise during the week it is assigned. Upon completion of the exercise, students must complete an online quiz that consists of the same questions in the exercise. The online quiz is within the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) online learning platform, so answers are automatically graded and imported into the student's grade book.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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