Paleoclimate influence on landscape evolution

Dr. Timothy S. White, Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

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  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
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This page first made public: May 10, 2017


In this activity we work students through a series of simple activities that allow them to recognize modern landforms in Alaska as existing in a central PA landscape to conclude that at some time in the past PA must have had climate conditions similar to AK. We think about the Last Glacial Maximum and finally consider similar features from aerial surveys of Mars to develop the idea that extant processes on Earth occur on other planets - nothing special about Earth. :)

Learning Goals

Content/concepts goals
Periglacial geomorphology
Last Glacial Maximum
Legacy landforms
Planetary geology

Higher order thinking skills goals
Description and analysis of landforms
Recognition of similar features in different landscapes and on different planets.
Hypothesis formulation

Other skills goals
Oral presentation

Context for Use

Type and level of course
I've used this primarily in outreach activities to secondary education teachers, but this could easily be adapted for higher and lower levels of education.

Skills and concepts students should have mastered
Not much. Based on audience you could reduce the amount of information provided in which case you might want students to understand issues of paleoclimatology and perhaps a little bit about glacial geomorphology.

How the activity is situated in the course
As above, I have not used this in a course, primarily used for outreach.

Description and Teaching Materials

Everything is described and/or linked in the attachment.
Paleoclimate influence on landscape evolution (Acrobat (PDF) 636kB May8 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

In step 1+2 have the students focus as directed in the exercise. Guide them to describe what they see, not interpret what they see. It does not matter if they use geomorphologically appropriate terminology. Do the same with step 3. Note that the image on the right in step 3 is from the toe of one of the landforms observable in the image on the left. If they need it, guide them to recognize that the landforms visible on the left in step 3 are similar to what they observed in the LiDar image in step 2.

Steps 4 + 5 are meant for the participants to first recognize that Alaska is a colder climate today than Pennsylvania. The maps of glacial deposits in PA should lead them to understand that PA was colder in the past including with glaciers as in AK today. Thus, landforms in PA (may have) formed in the past when the PA climate was colder - a modern landform as a legacy of the past.

The final step is to tie all that has been learned her to imagery from Mars showing similar landforms, to conclude that therefore similar processes may be extant or have been active on Mars.


I don't though it would not be hard to develop a rubric for assessment.

References and Resources

Included in attachment.