Initial Publication Date: June 22, 2017

Eric Small: Using Measuring Water Resources with GPS, Gravity, and Traditional Methods in Geology 2001: Planet Earth at UNAVCO

About This Course

The Earth System science course is intended for sophomore-level geology majors. University of Colorado is a large public research university.

Two 75–minute class sessions
One 2.5–hour lab
Large public research university

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 171kB Nov1 16)

Introductory Statement

The module was used to provide students with real world examples of how geodetic data can be used to quantify water stored in different components of the terrestrial water cycle. They learn the challenges and methods of measuring different aspects of the water cycle and gain better understanding of the very real societal hurdles to providing sufficient water for agriculture and communities, especially during droughts. By working with both traditional and geodetic methods for measuring the water system, they gain experience with methods over a range of time and space scales.

The students appreciated using "real" data that shed light on current problems. They also noted the challenges and uncertainty that exists when one tries to calculate fluxes or storage in the Earth System.

My Experience Teaching with GETSI Materials

I did not use Unit 1 (background to water cycle), as that information was already embedded in the content used earlier in the semester. Units 2–4 were used in consecutive lab periods, with associated readings assigned prior to the lab period.

Relationship of GETSI Materials to My Course

The module was used in weeks 9–11 of the 15-week semester. An introduction to the water cycle preceded use of the module. The groundwater mining examples were central throughout the remainder of the semester, as we discussed resources and climate change.


The labs based on Units 2 and 3 were graded by the TA according to the answers provided in the handouts. The short answer section of the Unit 4 lab was similarly graded. The "report writing" component of Unit 4 was a challenge, as many of the students had not encountered a similar assignment previously. The report was graded according to the sample rubric provided.


The students were able to complete the required calculations and analyses. This was their first use of authentic geodetic data to solve Earth System (and related societal) problems. The students appreciated the complexities of the problems, thus gaining a greater understanding of the challenges and uncertainty faced when studying the Earth System.