When should we move the marina?

Thomas Hickson, University of St. Thomas (MN)
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Initial Publication Date: June 10, 2014 | Reviewed: June 26, 2014


In this assignment students use real world data to solve an applied problem in geomorphology. They use ArcGIS and time sequential aerial photography to determine when a marina on Lake Mead must be moved to avoid problems of sedimentation related to a major drawdown of the lake. Students must estimate the rate of delta progradation and come up with a timeframe for when the marina will become unusable. It is set up as a realistic consulting project, based on a project completed by the author.

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This assignment is used in a sophomore level geomorphology course that has a strong GIS component.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

They will need basic ArcGIS skills, including how to create line shapefiles and how to use the measure tool. Files in this activity could be converted to .kmz for use in Google Earth.

How the activity is situated in the course

This exercise comes during a segment on fluvial processes, but is really meant to provide students a very realistic example of how geomorphology can be applied to real world problems and questions that might be faced in an environmental consulting situation.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Delta progradation. Estimation of rates. Prediction based on real world data.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Formulation of a predictive model.

Other skills goals for this activity

GIS skills and minor writing skills.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this assignment students are given a request for services from the National Park Service, the lead agency in charge of the Lake Mead National Recreation area. They are asked, in their role as a geological consultant, to estimate when the Las Vegas Bay marina needs to be moved, based on recent drawdowns activity on the lake and progradation of a delta into the Las Vegas Bay arm of the lake.

Students are given time-sequential aerial photography (already georeferenced for ArcGIS) from the Southern Nevada Water Authority that brackets the time of the major drawdown of the lake, as well as a DOQ of the region and a shapefile with key features labeled. They also have lake level data for that time period. They must submit a brief consulting report that summarizes how they made their estimate and that gives the Lake Mead National Recreation Area an idea of the timeframe they have available to move the marina.

The .zip file here includes:
1) The Request for Services letter.
2) A DOQ file.
3) A shapefile with key placenames and features.
4) Time sequential air photos georeferenced.
5) An .mxd ArcGIS project file with all relevant data linked.
6) An Excel file with Lake Mead levels that bracket the time of interest.
Move The Marina? Data Files (Zip Archive 132.2MB Jun10 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

I typically run this activity very open-ended. Students are given the request for services and access to the data, then they struggle with the problem for awhile to see if they can come up with a good way to answer it. I ask them to work in pairs or small groups to develop a methodology that might work for them, and to come up with a predictive model that will give them the result they seek. The idea is to get them to come up with the solution, using directed questions and discussion.


Students submit a 1 to 2 page consulting report that summarizes their work.

References and Resources