Soil Mantled Hillslope Profile

Sharon Bywater-Reyes, University of Northern Colorado
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Initial Publication Date: March 2, 2023


This activity is used in an upper-division process-based geomorphology course in a hillslope unit. Students derive a steady-state soil profile using the diffusive transport equation.

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This is taught in a cross listed upper division/graduate process-based geomorphology course in a hillsope module/unit.The course uses Bierman and Montgomery Key Concepts in Geomorphology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need to have foundational math and Excel skills but is designed to be used for students who have not yet had or do not feel confident with their calculus skills. Students need some basic understanding of earth materials/geology.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is within a hillslope unit to demonstrate sediment transport and landform connections in transport-limited hillslope environments. Students have practiced mass balance applications. This is the first application of using a sediment transport equation/geomorphic transport law.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The objective of this exercise is to derive the equilibrium profile shape of a steady state soil covered hillslope based on the diffusive transport equation. You will use a mass balance assumption combined with the diffusive transport equation to derive a convex hillslope shape.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Linking data analysis to observations and hypotheses
Creating and applying a model

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

The materials consist of the lab guide and instructions which includes a portion done together as a class to make sure students understand the concepts and steps needed to create the Excel model. The second part walks students through instructions for creating the hillslope profile in Excel and questions to apply their model.

There is also an Excel sheet to get students started.

Student Handout for Hillslope Profile Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 340kB Mar2 23)
Excel Spreadsheet to Accompany Hillslope Activity (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 18kB Mar2 23) 

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students may need help setting up their Excel spreadsheet equations and plotting if they haven't done this a lot

Based on Bierman and Montgomery (2014 or 2020) Key Concepts in Geomorphology Hillslopes Chapter Macmillan


If students have successfully applied their model to interpreting landscapes through questions 10-13 especially

References and Resources

Bierman and Montgomery (2014 or 2020) Key Concepts in Geomorphology Hillslopes Chapter Macmillan ISBN:9781319059804