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GEOL 5260: Fluvial Geomorphology Fall 2008



This course will focus on the physical processes operating in stream channels and watersheds. At the reach-scale, we will cover basic fluid mechanics; sediment transport; and channel patterns, forms, and classification systems. Rivers will be placed in their spatial context within the watershed, with analyses of watershed-scale hydrology and topography in GIS. We will discuss river history and changes through time, the role humans have in shaping and altering river systems, and river restoration efforts. The course will include 3 day-long field trips and multiple shorter field exercises to practice data collection techniques at a reach scale, develop a classification system for a North Shore channel system, and study physical modeling of channel processes. A particular emphasis will be placed on scientific report writing, with the core of the course focused on a series of exercises with formal write-ups.


Goals of the course:

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

1)      Utilize basic data collection techniques for fluvial geomorphology studies.

2)      Work with group data sets.

3)      Work with cross-sectional geometry, flow, and grain size data to calculate basic fluid flow parameters and sediment transport capacity at a reach scale.

4)      Use ArcMap GIS for spatial analyses of topography at the watershed scale.

5)      Understand the unique setting of North Shore streams and how they relate to classic, graded streams.

6)      Use simple physical models to answer scientific questions relating to fluid flow, sediment transport, and watershed dynamics.

7)      Understand forcing factors in stream dynamics, including the role of humans on rivers.

8)      Write a scientific paper including data collection and analysis.


Instructor: Dr. Karen Gran


Phone: 726-7406

Office: Heller Hall 217

Office Hours: M 9-10am; Th 2-3pm; or by appt.


Time: Lecture T/Th 10:00-11:15 Chem 207

Lab F 10:00-11:50, Chem 207

Three all-day field trips (required):

Saturday, Sept. 13th, 9am

Saturday, Sept. 27th, 9am

Friday, Nov. 14th, 8am


Text: Fluvial Forms and Processes, by David Knighton

There also will be outside readings which can be accessed through the class website.


Class Website: We will have a class website on Google Groups this year:

Labs: We have a lab scheduled from 10-12 on Friday mornings. This time will be used to work on data analysis from field trips, conduct shorter local field exercises, work on GIS assignments, do problem sets, and practice analyses discussed during lecture. We will also have 2 day-long field exercises and a trip to St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. To accommodate those Saturday trips, some Friday lab sessions will be cancelled.

When we are outside, we will often be in river channels. Please dress appropriately! I recommend purchasing a pair of hip boots or chest waders. If you plan to work on rivers, they will be useful in the future, too.
Course Framework:








Sept. 2-5

Introduction to fluvial geomorphology


Ch. 1, pp. 1-8


No Lab


Sept. 8-12

Fluid Mechanics

Ch.4, pp. 96-106

Optional: Intro to Field surveying


Sept. 13th

Field trip I Reach-scale surveys; Roughness


Leave at 9am, HH loading dock


Sept. 15-19

Fluid Mechanics

Flow around bends

Ch. 5, pp. 213-230

Fluid mechanics

problem solving


Sept. 22-26


Sediment Transport

Paper Draft Due Field Trip #1: Sept. 25th

Ch. 4, pp. 107-140

No Lab


Sept. 27th

Field trip II Flow around a bend; Floodplains


Leave at 9am, HH loading dock


Sept. 29 Oct. 3

Sediment transport

Depositional Features

Final Paper Due, Field Trip #1: Oct. 3rd

Ch. 4, pp. 141-150

GIS Meander migration


Oct. 6-10

No class on Monday - GSA

Bedrock Channels

Figures Due Field Trip #2: Oct. 10th

Whipple et al., 2000

Bedrock Channels


Oct. 13-17

Channel classification

Long profiles

Ch. 5, pp. 151-153, 206-241; 242-260;

Montgomery & Buffington, 1997

Long profiles; River classification


Oct. 20-24

Hydraulic Geometry

Flood Frequency

Long Profiles Due: Oct. 24th

Ch. 5, pp. 167-187; Fitzpatrick et al., 2006

Hydraulic geometry


Oct. 27-31

Drainage network development & integration

Landscape evolution


Ch. 2, pp. 9-64

Ch. 3, pp. 80-95 + outside reading

GIS - Watersheds


Nov. 3-7

Watershed History and Channel Change

Final Report on Amity Creek Due Nov. 7th

Ch. 6, pp. 261-302; Walter & Merritts, 2008

GIS Terraces and Knickpoints


Nov. 10-14

Physical modeling

Scaling relationships

Tal and Paola, 2007

Friday Field Trip to St. Anthony Falls Laboratory (8am, HH loading dock)


Nov. 17-21

Physical modeling + TBD

Report on MN River watershed due Nov. 21st


Outside Readings

Physical modeling


Nov. 24-26

Riparian vegetation/Large Woody Debris

No class Thursday/Friday: Thanksgiving

Outside Readings

No lab


Dec. 1-5

Stream restoration and dam removals

Report on physical modeling due Dec. 5th

Ch. 6, pp. 261-302;

Trush and McBain

Dam removal


Dec. 8-12

Anthropogenic and ecological influences

Climate change

Ch. 6, pp. 302-335; Outside Readings



Dec. 16 (Tuesday)

Final Papers Due 4pm



Note: Although this schedule was put together following much deliberation, it may still change.


Attendance Policy: I know this is obvious, but please attend class and lab. Attendance is both required and expected. In-class discussions, exercises, and labs cannot be made up.


Group Work: I encourage you to study in groups and work on labs in groups. However, the work you turn in should be your own.


Course Grade: There are no exams in this course. Your grade will be composed of a series of reports and assignments as follows

20% Paper from field trip #1

10% Figures from field trip #2

5% Long profile figure

15% Amity Creek final report

10% MN River GIS report

10% Physical Modeling report

20% Final paper

10% In-class exercises, discussion, participation

Grading: Final point totals will be graded on a curve with the following guarantees:

90% and above A

80% B

70% C

< 70% F


Special Accommodations: I want this course to be accessible to everyone. If you have any disability, either permanent or temporary, which might affect your ability to perform in this class, please let me know at the start of the term.


Internet ID Access: In this class, our use of technology will sometimes make students' names and U of M Internet IDs visible within the course website, but only to other students in the same class. Since we are using a secure, password-protected course website, this will not increase the risk of identity theft or spamming for anyone in the class. If you have concerns about the visibility of your Internet ID, please contact me for further information.


Academic Dishonesty:

Academic dishonesty tarnishes UMD's reputation and discredits the accomplishments of students. UMD is committed to providing students every possible opportunity to grow in mind and spirit. This pledge can only be redeemed in an environment of trust, honesty, and fairness. As a result, academic dishonesty is regarded as a serious offense by all members of the academic community. In keeping with this ideal, this course will adhere to UMD's Student Academic Integrity Policy, which can be found at This policy sanctions students engaging in academic dishonesty with penalties up to and including expulsion from the university for repeat offenders. 
Student Conduct:
The instructor will enforce and students are expected to follow the University's Student Conduct Code 
( Appropriate classroom conduct promotes an environment of academic achievement and integrity. Disruptive classroom behavior that substantially or repeatedly interrupts either the instructor's ability to teach, or student learning, is prohibited. Disruptive behavior includes inappropriate use of technology in the classroom. Examples include ringing cell phones, text-messaging, watching videos, playing computer games, doing email, or surfing the Internet on your computer instead of note-taking or other instructor-sanctioned activities.