GEL 341 Geomorphology

David A. Franzi,
SUNY Plattsburgh


Geomorphology is the study of landforms and landscapes and their relationship to surface processes, underlying structure and the history of geological changes. Process geomorphology views landforms and landscapes as the result of a balance between driving forces, such as climate, gravity and internal heat flow, and the resisting framework created by the lithology and structure of near-surface earth materials.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

The course is designed for mid-level undergraduate geology and environmental science students. It is a required course for the BS environmental science program and an elective for the geology and other environmental science curricula. The student audience generally consists of 60-65% environmental science and 30-35% geology majors. Geomorphology requires only physical (introductory) geology as a prerequisite. The lab portion uses Geographic Information Systems software but the GIS applications are straightforward so an introductory GIS course is not required.

Course Content:

Geomorphology is taught from a process perspective. This approach emphasizes the relationship between process and form; underscores the linkages between geomorphology and other geoscience disciplines such as plate tectonics, structural geology, geophysics, petrology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, cosmology, atmospheric science and ecosystems studies; and acknowledges that landscapes are palimpsests that often retain relict features that are not in equilibrium with existing controls.

The lab portion of the course uses Geographic Information Systems software but the GIS applications are straightforward so an introductory GIS course is not required.

Course Goals:

By the end of this semester, students should be able to;
  • Evaluate the principal components and operational mechanisms that are common to most natural earth systems and apply the system concept to any biological, chemical or physical system;
  • Interpret linkages between different geomorphic processes and systems;
  • Collect and analyze geomorphologic data from topographic and geologic maps; geological cross sections, aerial images, field observations and spatial databases and interpret the origins of landforms or landscapes;
  • Synthesize the results of a geomorphological analysis to formulate and interpret process models for natural geomorphic systems;
  • Predict responses of geological systems to changes in controlling variables;
  • Evaluate natural hazards (for example earthquakes, volcanoes, floods and hurricanes), and contemporary social issues such as energy and mineral resources, ground and surface water resources, pollution, and global climate change from a geomorphic systems perspective, make informed decisions about issues dealing with our physical environment and act to make the world a better place for everyone.

Course Features:

The laboratory exercises combine traditional topographic map and aerial image analysis and GIS technology with process-oriented regional geomorphology. The labs emphasize geomorphic analysis and the synthesis of analytical data into process models. Students are expected to construct accurate and effective graphic and to communicate their understanding of geomorphic systems in oral and written form.

Course Philosophy:

The course design is well suited to a diverse audience of environmental science and geology students. It recognizes the diversity of students' academic backgrounds and experience and
provides subject material that is interesting and relevant to a diverse audience.


Students are evaluated based upon their performance on two hour exams, a comprehensive final exam the quality of their written laboratory reports (~8 per semester). The grading scale is A to E.


Geomorphology Syllabus 2014 (Acrobat (PDF) 1.6MB Jun11 14)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Huggett, R.J., 2011, Fundamentals of Geomorphology (Third Edition): Routledge, New York, 458p.

Reading published literature is an important part of the laboratory portion of the course.