Quaternary mapping in Bells Canyon as an introduction to ArcGIS Pro

Karen Gran, University of Minnesota-Duluth
Author Profile


This lab is intended to take a GIS novice and introduce them to mapping in ArcGIS Pro by producing a Quaternary map of Bells Canyon in Utah. It can be used as a first GIS exercise to introduce select skills to the students before having them work on more complex mapping assignments in GIS. Students learn how to import data, create visualizations of DEM data, create feature class data for mapping, digitize on screen, and produce exportable and shareable maps. They learn these skills in a project where they are tasked to map Quaternary features in a glacial landscape impacted by Holocene-age normal faulting along the Wasatch front. Students need to be able to identify glacial landforms, fault scarps, and alluvial deposits in their mapping area and interpret the Quaternary geologic history of this site in addition to producing a map using ArcGIS Pro. An extension involves students planning a field check campaign to confirm their remote hypotheses and answer lingering questions. This helps students assess their level of uncertainty for different portions of the mapping area.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This works as a lab exercise in a virtual field camp, providing students with the opportunity to map Quaternary deposits and deformation on lidar data in GIS. It also provides an introductory exercise to ArcGIS Pro for the GIS novice through geologic mapping, and could be used in any course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have basic geomorphology and be able to understand the configuration of basic glacial deposits (terminal moraines and recessional moraines) and alluvial deposits. They should have experience with cross-cutting relationships and interpreting geologic history.

Students are not expected to know GIS. Those that have some familiarity will move faster through the exercise.

How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise will be used in our virtual field camp in summer 2020 as a means to introduce students to mapping Quaternary units from lidar and using ArcGIS. We expect to build on this with a second ArcGIS lab mapping landslide hazards, giving students more practice interpreting patterns in high-resolution topographic data.

Activity Length

We are planning for one full day, interspersing ArcGIS work with group discussions of geology and geologic history. An extension to conduct a field checking campaign could take an additional 1-2 hours.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Identify and map glacial deposits, alluvial deposits, and active faults from lidar data.
Reconstruct relative chronology and Quaternary geologic history from cross-cutting relationships.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Extension: Plan a field campaign to check remote mapping in areas of high uncertainty, identifying what observations would be necessary to support different potential interpretations.

Other skills goals for this activity

ArcGIS Pro skills:
Import data into ArcGIS
Create visualizations of DEM data (slope, hillshade, contour)
Change symbology
Create new Feature Classes
Digitize and edit lines and polygons on-screen
Create new attribute fields
Create exportable maps

Working in a team
Working independently
Extension: Field campaign planning

Description and Teaching Materials

This lab is designed to introduce students to ArcGIS Pro through mapping of Quaternary deposits off of lidar data in Bells Canyon, Utah.

Students learn basics of how to import DEM data, visualize it in a variety of ways, and create exportable maps. They then work in groups to map the Quaternary geology (different age glacial deposits cross-cut by alluvial deposits and Holocene-age normal faults). Individually, they learn how to create a geologic map in ArcGIS, digitize in their interpretations of the topography, and export the map.

An extension has students plan a field campaign to check their remote mapping. They have to think about where their uncertainty is high and what kind of observations they might make in the field to support or refute their hypotheses.

Note: If you want to do this exercise in ArcGIS Pro, students should have that running on their computers (or through a remote server) prior to this exercise. How to accomplish that is very much institution-specific. For summer 2020, ESRI is offering ArcGIS Pro software to all students for free. (https://community.esri.com/community/education/blog/2020/03/31/free-student-licenses-via-learn-arcgis-until-august-31)

Note: If you do not want to use ArcGIS Pro, the datasets can be used in Google Earth, and the exercise run simply as a Quaternary mapping and interpretation exercise rather than as an ArcGIS Pro exercise.

Student directions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 255kB May17 20)

Updated student instructions (June 1, 2020) (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 258kB Jun1 20)

Data files to provide students (Zip Archive 200.2MB May17 20)

Technology Needs

To run this lab as written, students need access to ArcGIS Pro.

Teaching Notes and Tips

See notes to instructors for more detailed information.

The directions are quite lengthy. The idea is to give students detailed directions the first time and then ask them later in the lab to accomplish the same task without detailed instructions.

GIS can be quite challenging for new users. Make sure you have a system in place to get questions answered. The lab is written as a group lab, with each student working independently, but within the context of a group to ask GIS questions and to discuss the geology mapping prior to digitizing. An instructor should be available to help answer questions, too, as GIS can be buggy!

The extension allows students to plan a field checking campaign. This could be turned in as a written assignment or conducted as an interview with an instructor in which groups describe where they would go, what they would look for, and why.


Students will be turning in three maps and a geologic history. Assessing two of the maps involves whether or not they were able to produce them, with reasonable cartographic choices. The Quaternary map and geologic history will be assessed together to make sure they are consistent with each other and that they represent geologically reasonable and feasible interpretations of the topography.

For the extension, students should demonstrate that they have thought about areas of uncertainty and what intepretations they would need to make in the field to distinguish between different hypottheses.

References and Resources

Geologic map covering Bells Canyon:
McKean, A.P., and Solomon, B.J., 2018. Interim geologic map of the Draper Quadrangle, Salt Lake and Utah Counties, Utah. Open-File Report 683DM, Utah Geological Survey. https://ugspub.nr.utah.gov/publications/open_file_reports/ofr-683/ofr-683.pdf

The GIS file can be obtained from the Utah Geologic Survey at https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/maps/geologic-maps/#toggle-id-1 (Draper 7.5k quad map)

Quaternary mapping in Bells Canyon as an introduction to ArcGIS Pro -- Discussion  

It would be good if the Instructor's files (Data files, Example maps, Notes) could be put behind an "Instructors only" gateway.
I want to send my students to this page to download the zipped data file. But I do not want them to see the Example maps.
Gayle Gleason


Share edittextuser=318768 post_id=43951 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=14325

Join the Discussion

Log in to reply