Winter Field Lab: Pond Hydrology

Sara Elizabeth Gran, Paul Robert Bierman, and Kyle Keedy Nichols


This is a great field activity to implement during late winter or early spring when things have not quite thawed. Students get to go out into the field and collect their own data from a frozen pond. They collect bathymetric data, measure water temperature and conductivity, locate ground-water inputs, and extract a sediment core. Back in the lab,they make hand and computer-contoured bathymetric maps and temperature and conductivity cross-sections and run visual-core log, loss-on-ignition (LOI), magnetic susceptibility (MS) tests. Then they draw conclusions about water movement in the pond, pond-water residence time, and the pond's depositional and hydrologic history.

Learning Goals

  • Learn how to collect data, organize observations, make surveys, and collect cores.
  • Understand the hydrology of ponds in winter, considering residence time of water, inflows, outflows, water-column stratigraphy, and sediment record.

Context for Use

This activity is designed for upper-level undergraduate and graduate-level geohydrology courses.

Description and Teaching Materials

The following equipment is required:
  • Optical total station
  • Real-time kinematic global positioning system (GPS)
  • Ice augers
  • Weighted measuring tapes
  • Temperature and conductivity meter
  • Sediment core sampler (which can be made with a PVC core barrel)
  • PVC saw
  • Graph paper and graphing software such as DeltaGraph 4.0
  • Magnetic susceptibility meter
  • Oven for drying and burning sediment samples
  • Radiocarbon calibration software such as CALIB 4.0

Teaching Notes and Tips

Emphasizing that the students are doing original research and that there are no pre-determined answers to posed questions enhances their interest in the project.


Report due three weeks after field day. Evaluate reports based on the quality of the science, writing, and calculations. In addition to the teacher evaluation, letting class members evaluate and edit another student's report gives students a chance to practice critical evaluation of another's work, which is found to enhance the re-writing process.

References and Resources

  • Gran, S.E., Bierman, P.R., and Nichols, K.K., 1999, Teaching Winter Geohydrology Using Frozen Lakes and Snowy Mountains, Journal of Geoscience Education v. 47, p. 420-427.
  • Snow Hydrology is a related winter field lab activity.