Comparative Planetary Geomorphology

Jennifer L. B. Anderson
Winona State University
Author Profile


This is a laboratory exercise to introduce comparative planetary geomorphology by investigating common geologic features on the Earth, Moon, and Mars.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This exercise is designed for an advanced geomorphology course for upper-level students who have no prior experience in planetary science.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Making a cross-section
  • General experience with geologic maps
  • General knowledge of surficial processes such as plate tectonics and volcanology

How the activity is situated in the course


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Students will investigate geologic features common to the Earth, Moon and Mars, such as volcanoes, impact craters, and fluvial and tectonic features.
  • Students will gain experience in using images, data sets, and other planetary data primarily gained from orbiting spacecraft.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Students will create geologic maps from orbital images and infer geologic processes and histories of a region based on surface morphology.
  • Students will apply their knowledge of terrestrial geology to other planets, incorporating the physical characteristics of the other planet.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Prior to this lab exercise, students discuss general physical differences between the planets Earth, Moon and Mars, and why these physical differences exist. They use globes and global data sets in lecture to investigate large-scale patters, similarities and differences between these bodies. They discuss methods by which planetary geologists study the surfaces of other planets. While working on this laboratory exercise, they use maps of the Earth, Moon and Mars (both geologic and topographic) as well as data from missions such as Clementine, MOLA, and HRSC, which they obtain online. The investigate impact crater morphology between the Earth and Moon; comparative planetary geology in the form of fluvial, tectonic, and volcanologic comparisons of Earth and Mars; and complete a geologic map and history of a region of Mars using only orbital images and data sets.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Primarily, I look to the clarity of their finished geologic map and cross-sections as well as their descriptions and applications of geologic reasoning to other planets.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials