Geologic Characterization of Your Property

Kathleen M. Harper (University of Montana - Missoula), Jennifer Sliko (Penn State - Harrisburg), Beth Hallauer (Sinclair Community College), and Michael Hernandez (Weber State University)
Initial Publication Date: June 23, 2017 | Reviewed: July 17, 2017


Students will look up an address (either of their choosing or instructor-provided) and assess the geologic characteristics and vulnerability of that location. Students will utilize datasets about geologic issues/hazards to learn more about how different geologic processes affect the location.

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Learning Goals

This activity focuses on several Earth Science Literacy Principles, specifically big idea 8 "Natural hazards pose risks to humans" and big idea 9 "Humans significantly alter the earth". This activity utilizes spatial thinking, temporal reasoning, geographic location, and systems thinking.

  • Engage students by looking at geologic/environmental characteristics and hazards at a particular location
  • Introduce students to relevant online data to assess characteristics and hazards at a particular location
  • Select and synthesize characteristics and risks specific to the geographic location
  • Correlate characteristics and risks at a particular location with larger scale earth processes

Learning Objectives

  • Students will research and describe the geologic/environmental characteristics of a specific location.
  • Students will utilize geospatial databases to analyze the characteristics and hazards of a specific location.
  • Students will assess characteristics and risks of a specific location.
  • Students will evaluate the value of a residential location based on the total sum of geologic/environmental factors and risks at the location.

Context for Use

Type and level of course

Introductory-level Physical Geology, Environmental Geology, or Geologic/Environmental Hazards college course

Skills and concepts students should have mastered

Some concepts and skills that would be helpful in preparation to complete this activity are:

    • rock types and their formation
    • basic understanding of geologic hazards and their occurrence and causes
    • basic understanding of surface and groundwater concepts
    • basic map reading skills

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is used as a culminating learning activity to allow students to apply and synthesize basic concepts and skills. Property addresses can be assigned early in the course and students can consider that locale as they progress through the concepts preparing them for this final activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

Individual Student Activity

In this activity, students will:

  • Choose a location to examine geologic/environmental characteristics and hazards;
    Either the student's home location or some suggested alternative location (with consultation from the instructor) can be used as a starting point for examination of a variety of characteristics and a number of different hazards.
  • Research the location by interacting with relevant online data resources provided in the Resources section of this activity;
  • Compile a summary report of geologic/environmental characteristics and hazards/risks for the location, including:
    • Bedrock geology and soil types
    • Radon hazard potential
    • Earthquake occurrence and hazard
    • Flood occurrence and hazard
    • Volcanic eruptions, hazard, and specific impact
    • Mass wasting: hazard and specific impact
    • Groundwater issues (aquifers, water availability, subsidence issues, quality, sinkhole potential, karst topography)
    • Coastal hazards
    • Severe weather potential
    • Economic resources and land use (mineral and energy resources and agriculture)
    • Toxic hazards (superfund sites, toxic waste concentration, landfills)
All materials for the student activity are available online using the links to documents in the Handouts section and referring to websites listed in the Resources section.

Group Work Option

After students have completed the individual part of the assignment (the site assessments), a collaborative (group) work option is also available. The instructor should place students into groups of 4 such that each student in the group examined a different location. The students will work together to evaluate and compare all of their properties, creating a professional style report ranking the value of the properties with consideration of the geologic/environmental assessment of each property.


Example of a completed site assessment for Instructors

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

Teaching Notes and Tips

The activity 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 hybrid classroom setting, students can complete the online unit as an assignment, using class time to address questions and for student presentations (if assigned by the instructor).

Needed Technologies

Most of the research requires only a web browser.
Making a compilation image may require a basic graphics program such as Paint, or inkscape (free download).


Depending on whether the activity is an online, individual assignment or a multi-level individual and group assignment, there are different sample rubrics shown below. Points can be assigned to fit instructor requirements.

References and Resources

General environmental hazards

Earthquake hazards (includes human-induced earthquake hazard)

Volcanic hazard

Water Resources and drought/flood hazard and

Landslide hazard

Radon hazard:

Location-specific Resources
Alabama (includes severe weather and coastal hazards):
California: and and
Florida: and and and
North Carolina: and
Oregon: and
Pennsylvania (non-technical):
Washington (Seattle): and

Add other Location-specific Resources  

This looks like an excellent activity. However, despite being logged in to SERC, when I try to access the handouts, I get a message saying I don't have access to them. I am not sure why an activity is shown on the Integrate collection if the materials can't be accessed.


Share edittextuser=75543 post_id=36033 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=11915

I am having the same problem.


Share edittextuser=48443 post_id=43656 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=11915

Apologies folks. Looks like there was a mistake made in originally uploading some of these files resulting in them incorrectly having been marked as private. That's now corrected and you should be able to download the files.


Share edittextuser=1 post_id=43657 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=11915

Thank you so much!


Share edittextuser=48443 post_id=43663 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=11915

All is good now - thanks!


Share edittextuser=75543 post_id=47545 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=11915

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