InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Water Science and Society > Section 2: Physical Hydrology > Module 4: Flood and Drought
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Module 4: Flood and Drought

Patrick Belmont, Utah State University

Summary

In this module, we will discuss the causes, implications and ways to characterize and predict what are often referred to as "extreme events" in hydrology: floods and droughts. Such events play important roles in natural ecosystems and are a major concern for society, with significant impacts on the economy, ecosystem health and services, as well as human health.

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Learning Goals

The goal of Module 4, Flood and Drought, is for students to become acquainted with hydrologic variability in time and space and to gain some perspective on the importance of floods and droughts for society and ecosystems. After completing the module, students will be able to:
  • distinguish between a forecast and a prediction and provide examples of each;
  • interpret flood frequency patterns from a histogram;
  • interpret flood risk at various locations using flood risk maps;
  • explain the hazards of living in a floodplain and the utility of floodways;
  • assess flood risk and flood history in their own hometowns;
  • articulate the concept of a 2-, 10- and 100-year flood.

Context for Use

Overall, this one-week module is intended for use as a stand-alone lesson or as part of an online or blended general education or introductory-level course that would satisfy a science distribution requirement. The module would be appropriate for non-majors and undeclared students looking for a major. There are two formats: (1) blended where the students meet at least once to perform the activities in teams; and (2) 100% online. As a general guideline, the delivery of content and assessment of learning goals/objectives have been designed to accommodate the logistics of large class sizes where students are expected to work approximately three hours per week covering lecture content with an additional six hours per week of additional reading and work on assessments. Note that some students will require more or less time to meet the goals and objectives of the module.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this module, students will:

  • interact with online teaching materials pertaining to floods and drought;
  • interpret a histogram of annual peak flow for a river;
  • analyze flood risk maps from the perspective of an insurance salesperson;
  • listen and respond to a National Public Radio broadcast on the 1972 Rapid City Flood;
  • research floodplain development in their own hometowns.

All materials for students are available online using the Student Materials link below. These can be implemented entirely in the context of distance learning, with students completing any discussion questions in the form of a blog or discussion group. In a traditional or blended classroom setting, students can complete the online unit as homework, using class time to address the discussion questions.

Teachers can find documentation of the activities as well as rubrics for students at this location. Rubrics for teachers are compiled under Assessment on this site. Suggestions for teaching and a list of the assessments are found below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

What works best for the module?
This module builds on content from earlier modules but is slightly more complex, discussing the immense time-space variability exhibited by hydrologic data. This is an important topic that emerges again in later modules focused on disparities between water availability and demand. Generally, students understood the concepts and appreciated the notion that such variable data can be organized in relatively simple ways for relatively easy interpretation. Students also appreciated the distinction between a forecast and prediction. Most students were also quite surprised by the amount of damage caused annually by floods and drought globally. Many other case studies and updated global statistics can be readily found online to augment module content. Students found the Summative Assessment useful and straightforward.

What students found difficult
Module 4 requires students to download data and perform some basic analyses in MS Excel. Students with little or no previous exposure to Excel may need a tutorial on importing and manipulating data in Excel, inputting basic formulae, and/or making plots. Ample resources are available on the web (see below), but a brief in-class tutorial might be helpful.

This module also introduces the basic concepts of frequency and probability. Some students who have not previously had exposure to these topics need some additional tutorials or resources to understand the material and complete some of the assignments. Some resources to direct them to include:

Reflections
The biggest challenge with this module is helping students wrap their heads around the variability of hydrology on multiple time and space scales, so the more examples that can be provided the better. Instructors may choose to have their students work with stream flow data from the USGS water website as time allows to get a better grasp on variability.

Assessment

Formative Assessments

Summative Assessment

  • The Summative assessment for this module is Floods.

References and Resources

Student readings:

Optional resources:

Teaching Themes

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »