ES 546 Field

James S. Aber

Study of landforms and landscape development in the field. Techniques for description, surveying, mapping, and interpretation of landforms in a natural setting. Practical application of geomorphology to terrain analysis. Required fall-break field trip; three credit hours.

Course Information
Course requirements Geomorph introduction
Learning outcomes Landscape blog

These web pages remain available in archive status,
but the course will not be updated after May 2017.

Syllabus attachment.

Course availability

This course will be taught in fall semester, 2015. Regular (on-campus) students should enroll through normal procedures. The course is also available for distance learning. Off-campus students should enroll through Distance Education. The XA section is for graduate students; ZA is for undergraduates. In order to receive university credit, students must be enrolled officially and must be in contact with the instructor for course materials and directions.

The course features a multi-day field trip during the fall break, Wednesday through Sunday, Oct. 14-18. All students must be available to participate in this field trip. Notes, maps, photographs, samples, and measurements that are acquired on the field trip form the basis for preparing final reports. Students work independently following the weekly schedule (see blog) during the semester. There are no other required class meetings; students may consult with your instructor individually as needed.

ES 546 requirements

  1. Field trip: All students are expected to attend and participate in the field trip, as noted above. The exact field-trip sites and route depend, to some extent, on favorable weather conditions.

    The field excursion is a five-day trip across central and western Nebraska into southwestern South Dakota (Oct. 14-18). Primary geomorphic features of interest include the Nebraska Sand Hills, Pine Ridge, White River Badlands, and Black Hills. Our accommodations will be a duplex-cabin unit at Chadron State Park in the scenic Pine Ridge.

    A special fee of $100 covers accommodations and some meals (breakfast & lunch); students pay for dinners on their own. Transportation is furnished free. The fee is due by the end of September; make checks out to "ESU field geomorphology, c/o J.S. Aber" and give to your instructor. Note: enrollment is limited (10 students) for logistical reasons.

  2. Team project: Students will form into small teams (2-3 students each) in order to prepare a webpage report—see teamwork in the geosciences. The report should detail geomorphogy of one landscape region visited on the field trip based on published or unpublished information. Report should include pertinent observations, data, calculations, maps and illustrations to support your interpretation of the geomorphic features.

    Each team is encouraged to utilize creative visualization techniques such as ground and aerial photography, satellite imagery, terrain modeling, video, photostory, animation or cartoon, clickable map, etc. Report must follow standard scientific style and include a bibliography of all references cited. Projects will be evaluated based on accurate scientific and factual content and creativity of display. First draft is due prior to Thanksgiving; complete version is due prior to finals week.

    Instructions for preparing student webpages.

  3. Final exam: A take-home examination will be given during finals week (Dec. 7-11th). It will include aspects of the central Great Plains that are covered in the course readings and field observations.

  4. Grading scheme: field-trip participation = 25%, team report = 50%, final exam = 25%. Final grades are given in letters (A-F) with +/- designations, according to university policy. All students should review the departmental policy on plagiarism.

ADA statement: Emporia State University will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students need to contact the Director of Disability Services and the professor as early in the semester as possible to ensure that classroom and academic accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion. All communication between students, the Office of Disability Services, and the professor will be strictly confidential.

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Introduction to geomorphology

Geomorphology is the study of the Earth's surface landforms both on land and on the sea floor. This study is both descriptive and quantitative; it deals with morphology, processes, and origins of landforms. The ultimate goals of geomorphology are to understand the way in which landforms are created and to document the evolution of landforms through time. The geomorphology of any region or site is the result of interplay involving three primary factors.

  1. Structure: refers to the nature of solid materials that form the surface and subsurface, their composition, texture, fabric, architecture, mechanical strength, and other physical attributes.

  2. Process: refers to the physical, chemical, biological or human processes that shape the surface into landforms. Broadly speaking, processes are either depositional (constructive) or erosional (destructive).

  3. Time: refers both to the rate at which a process modifies the surface and to the length of time or duration that a process has operated at a site.

All Earth surfaces are subject to diverse processes that operate at greatly varying rates. Static landscapes do not exist; all landscapes undergo constant modification—some quite slowly, others rapidly, and almost instantaneously in certain cases. The active processes also change through time, so that every landscape is subject to continual evolution.

The processes that shape landforms can be categorized as endogenetic or exogenetic. Endogenetic processes are related to plate tectonics and to the surface effects of plate movements, both horizontally and vertically, as well as to other processes originating from the Earth's interior. Exogenetic processes develop at or above the surface in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, or biosphere. They involve wind, water, ice, mass movements, or living organisms that modify landforms. Impact and accumulation of extra-terrestrial materials (meteorites, comets, etc.) are also exogenetic processes.

Endogenetic and exogenetic processes combine with structure and time to produce the observed landforms at the Earth's surface. Most landforms involve a considerable mass of material--bedrock and sediment, and so are slow to adapt when environmental changes take place. The geomorphology of a region, therefore, represents a long-term integration of environmental conditions and trends. A region's geomorphology is, thus, a reflection of both past and present environments.

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Useful links for geomorphology

This course is presented by the Earth Science department for the express use and benefit of students enrolled at Emporia State University. Anyone else may view and enjoy the information here. All course curriculum © by the author (2015).

Please send your comments to the course instructor.
J.S. Aber, e-mail:
Last update: May 2017.