Module 3: Critical Zone Architecture and Evolution
This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:
- team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
- multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
- real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
- multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
- review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.
This page first made public: May 15, 2017
Summary and Overview
CZ science encompasses a wide range of scientific disciplines and is a truly transdisciplinary science. In some instances, well experienced and reputable Earth surface and environmental scientists have questioned the validity of CZ science, considering the questions asked and observations made as no different than soil and ecosystem science. However, an important difference between those sciences and CZ science is depth: into the subsurface, and through the vast extent of geologic time. CZ scientists incorporate "deep thinking" into their science, therefore to fully understand and embrace CZ science one must consider and understand the basic principles of geology and the geosciences.
While the overlapping spheres are each very important in mediating the myriad physical, chemical, and biological processes of the CZ, and in sculpting the CZ, the lithosphere stands alone as providing the solid framework onto which these processes develop and proceed. Thus to unravel the complexity of processes occurring in the CZ one must understand the architecture of the CZ manifested from the geologic setting.
The diversity of overlapping geological characteristics of parent material type, topography and overall geologic/tectonic setting interact to form an equally diverse set of landscapes and CZ architectures. However commonalities exist that may be recognized by similar landforms which in turn indicate similar processes of formation that sculpt the Critical Zone and control some of the ongoing processes within it.
These units address the five central InTeGrate goals of:
- Addressing geoscience-related grand challenges facing society by introducing students to the forces and processes responsible for an array of geologic hazards, making them more aware and informed scientific consumers.
- Developing students' ability to address interdisciplinary problems by developing a sound understanding of geomorphology and the various physical geographic and geologic disciplines that these rest upon.
- Improving student understanding of the nature and methods of geoscience and developing geoscientific habits of mind by using journal articles as background reading, thinking spatially through an examination of various map and aerial photography, and applying simple conceptual models to help explain Critical Zone processes.
- Making use of authentic and credible geoscience data through activities that allow them to examine national databases of geologic maps and image data and use these to investigate a local site of interest.
- Incorporating systems thinking by applying conceptual rock cycle models to the characterization of Critical Zone environments.
Additionally, this module:
- brings all students up to a basic comfort level regarding basic geomorphic processes and landforms. To do this, the first part of both units requires students to review basic concepts and images of common landscape features.
- Format uses two professional papers to introduce some fundamental geomorphic ideas that apply widely to Critical Zone processes.
The primary goal of this module is for students to complete it with a basic understanding of some primary geologic processes and the relationship to Critical Zone processes and science. These units focus on the lithosphere's presence and role in CZ form and function. By the end of this module students will be able to:
- Accurately recognize that tectonic processes of uplift and subsidence and the resulting landforms influence surficial processes of erosion, sediment transport and deposition, hill slope movement, and regolith production, and determine the architecture and evolution of the Critical Zone.
- Effectively summarize freely available online resources that provide information on geological mapping and aerial and other remotely sensed imagery that can be used in landscape assessment, and apply those resources to a site evaluation.
Linking Unit Content to Course Objectives
Below is a brief outline of examples within each Learning Unit where instructors can find resources that meet the overarching learning objective for the whole curriculum and each of the four primary learning objectives of the Critical Zone curriculum.
Overarching Learning Objective: Describe and characterize how interaction among the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and soil (The Critical Zone) support and influence life.
Four primary objectives:
Objective1) Identify grand challenges that face humanity and societies, ways which humans depend upon and alter the Critical Zone, and the potential role for Critical Zone science to offer solutions for these challenges.
Objective 2) Use and interpret multiple lines of data to explain Critical Zone processes.
- Unit 3.2: The Anderson et al (2007) reading and the short essay assignment are meant to stimulate the students to consider diverse evidence to understand and explain CZ processes.
Objective 3) Evaluate how the structure of the Critical Zone influences Critical Zone processes/services.
- Unit 3.1: All of the web sites considered in this unit along with the National Geologic Map Database activity will lead the students to a better understanding of CZ structure.
- Unit 3.2: All of the readings and websites presented in this unit, along with the in-class discussion and aerial photographic interpretative exercise will build the student's understanding of CZ structure.
Objective 4) Analyze how water, carbon, nutrients, and energy flow through the Critical Zone and drive Critical Zone processes.
- Unit 3.2: The Birkeland (1999) is particularly useful in helping place CZ processes within a geomorphological/landscape context.
Module assessment is based on a variety of approaches including: 1) short essays and a report; 2) a report based on the results of an online geologic data evaluation; and, 3) accurate description and interpretation of aerial photographs covering different landscapes of the United States.Back to top
- Unit 3.1: Geology and Geomorphology (Two 75 min class sessions)
- Review the basic geologic processes that contribute to large-scale geomorphic features of the landscape.
- Unit 3.2: Landforms and Remote Sensing (Two 75 min class sessions)
- Review characteristic geomorphic landscapes and the processes that form them.
For resources to design or augment an undergraduate course in Geomorphology go to the following url:
- Geomorphology module from On the Cutting Edge