Moraine Sediments

Lisa Tranel, Illinois State University
Author Profile


In this assignment students look at the provenance of glacial sediments and the size and shape of clasts to investigate the sources of moraine material and what happens as glaciers transport sediment. Students visit the field site to see sediment in place, collect a sample to sort in the lab, and compile and review a geologic map in ArcGIS.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I currently use this activity in an undergraduate sophomore level course called Minerals, Rocks, Fossils, and Maps. The class offers an in depth review of introductory geology classes and an introduction to doing geology field and lab work. Students are expected to have an introduction to geology or physical geography course, but it is not required.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need to have an introduction on how to identify igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a two-part activity. We spend one day visiting the field site and working with the samples in the lab, and we spend one day working with the geologic map in the computer lab. The order of the field and computer lab components can be altered to accommodate weather related changes to the field trip. Students analyze and compare their results outside of class and turn in a complete project at a later date. A written component is added when the field trip can occur early in the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The concept goals for this assignment are to:

  • Learn about glacial processes
  • Learn to make observations in the field
  • Practice working with geologic maps

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students critically analyze data collected from maps and from the field. Students develop a hypothesis based on observations and test the hypothesis with additional data or sample collections. They synthesize observations with readings and lectures.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students are introduced to ArcGIS and sources of geologic map data from geological surveys. Students learn to use calipers to measure clast size. Students may also be introduced to using Excel.

Description and Teaching Materials

Students put together a geologic map in ArcGIS to look at the bedrock source material that was eroded during the last glaciation. As a class, they calculate the total area of each type of bedrock that contributed to the glacial sediment load. Then students look at the actual distribution of rock types in a local moraine deposit. They compare the distribution of the bedrock areas and sediment clasts to determine if their hypothesis on the most frequently observed rock material is correct. Students also consider the size and shape of the sediments as indicators of how these materials were transported by the glaciers and provide additional information that may help them explain why their hypothesis was or was not supported by their observations.

Moraine Deposits Field Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 95kB May28 14)

Moraine Deposits GIS Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 189kB May28 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

If time permits, I also add a component where students sieve an additional sediment sample.

Students have varying levels of comfort working with ArcGIS. Students who are more confident tend to work quickly through the lab independently. I recommend students who are less confident with working with a new computer program work with a partner.


I assess the students using the "What to turn in" section as a checklist for the information that should be included and correct.

References and Resources

Illinois maps are available for download from the Illinois Geospatial Data Clearinghouse Surficial Geology and Elevation Data website

State geology maps are downloaded from the United States Geological Survey website: