Initial Publication Date: April 23, 2015

Using a Stream Table to Model Fluvial Processes

Lori Babcock, Lauren Kay, David Lageson, David Mogk, Dept. Earth Sciences, Montana State University


Modeling is one of the fundamental ways geoscientists learn about Earth processes. There are many types of models: conceptual, computational, and physical or analog. The purpose of modeling in understanding Earth processes is to give us a predictive capability and to confirm theory and observation of natural systems. As modeling becomes increasingly important to understanding complex Earth systems, it is important for students to gain a fundamental understanding of how models are developed, how they can be applied, and what their limitations are. To learn more, visit the module on Teaching with Models from the Starting Point Project.

Stream Tables

Stream tables are easily acquired and accessible for student use in introductory classes. We acquired our stream table from Little River Research and Design . They have an extensive collection of educational videos and related teaching activities that can be used directly in classes. We encourage you and your students to design your own research activities.

For a much larger scale of fluvial modeling, visit the University of Minnesota St. Anthony Falls flume lab .

Example Exercises

  • Mississippi River Modeling Exercise; Download the Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 134kB Aug6 14) and Demonstration (Acrobat (PDF) 20kB Aug6 14) files. In this lab we will be looking at river channels using the stream table. We will have 3 types of river channels for which we will measure sinuosity, average sediment discharge rate, and average velocity of the stream. You will draw each channel before and after to observe the modifications that have been made through time to each channel.
  • Glacial Lake Missoula Experiment; Download the Teaching Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Aug6 14)
  • We are going to recreate the outburst flood (or jökulhlaup) from Glacial Lake Missoula using the stream table. Our goal will be to create and test a hypothesis using our research about the outburst flood.
    Watch the video on Glacial Lake Missoula as designed by the ERTH 201 Earth System Science class at Montana State University: Glacial Lake Missoula Breach This video was created by Merri Lisa Trigilio a graduate student in the Film and Television Department, and is posted on Vimeo.

  • Haiti: Download the Teaching Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 17kB Aug6 14) On open-ended discovery exercise. Design an experiment that encompasses the given learning objectives, plus one additional learning objective that you create. The experimental design will be limited to the stream table and stream table components available to us for the sake of a plausible and reasonable experiment design. Learning Objectives
    • Explain the complex interrelations between seismic events, landslides, deforestation, and hazards in Haiti.
    • Discuss the relationship between land-use practices and resulting hazards
    • Identify variables that influence the rate of change as they pertain to erosion
    • Associatethe effects of vegetation removal on soil erosion.
    • Create a learning objective of your own.

« Previous Page