GEOL 5260: Fluvial Geomorphology                                                                                                     Fall 2012



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 several 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 learn to reconstruct channel and floodplain history in the field. 


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

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

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

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

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

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


Instructor:  Dr. Karen Gran                                                                                                                                      


Phone: 726-7406

Office: Heller Hall 217

Office Hours: Tuesday 10:30-11:30; Thursday 2-3; or by appt.


Time:  Lecture T/Th 9:00-10:15 HH 114

            Lab F 11:00-12:50, HH 114

Three additional field trips (required):

            Saturday, Sept. 15th

            Saturday, October 13th (half day)

            TBD (half day) – we will discuss options: Oct 6th, long day on Oct. 13th, or Tuesday/Friday extended lab


Text: Fluvial Forms and Processes, by David Knighton (required).  A copy is on reserve at the library.

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


Class Website: We have a class website set up on Moodle2 this year.  You can reach it directly at  It will be the go-to place for papers, assignments, extra materials, and data set exchange.  I will post powerpoints on the website after class. 


Labs:  We have a lab scheduled from 11-12:50 on Friday.  This time will be used to work on data analysis from field trips, conduct local field exercises, work on GIS assignments, do problem sets, and practice analyses discussed during lecture.  We will also have several field trips, including at least 2 on Saturdays (still working on timing for the third). When we are outside, we will usually 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.  I do have some that you can borrow, but please check with me first to see if I have your size available.
Course Framework: 2012 v.1                                                                                                                                 







Items due


Sept. 4-7

Intro to Fluvial Geomorphology;

Fluid Mechanics I

Ch. 1, p. 1-8

Ch.4, p. 96-107

Optional: Intro to Field surveying



Sept. 10-14

Fluid Mechanics II, III

Outside notes

Fluid mechanics problem solving



Sept 15

Field trip I –Sucker River


Leave HH loading dock at 8am



Sept. 17-21

Data sharing and analysis

Flow around bends

Secondary Flow

Ch. 5, p. 213-230, p. 193-201

No lab Friday

Field Trip 1 Analyses Due

9/20 (Th)


Sept. 24-28


Sediment Transport I, II


Ch. 4, p. 107-150;  Wilcock et al. Primer

Sediment Transport

Field Trip 1 Report Due 10/2 (next T)


Oct 1-5

Sediment Transport III

Floodplains/Depositional Systems

Ch. 5, p. 187-193;


Sediment Transp. Lab Due 10/5 (F)


Oct 6

POSSIBLE Field trip to Jay Cooke


Leave HH loading dock at 8am



Oct. 8-12

Bedrock Rivers

Whipple et al., 2000; Turowski 2012

Bedrock rivers



Oct 13

Field trip II –Amity Creek


Leave HH loading dock at 8am



Oct. 15-19

Channel classification

Discuss Montgomery & Buffington



Long profiles

Ch. 5, p. 151-153, 205-241;

Montgomery & Buffington, 1997

Ch. 5, p. 242-260

Amity Creek

long profile

Field Trip 2 Report Due 10/19 (F)


Oct. 22-26

Compile channel classifications

Discuss Fitzpatrick et al., 2006


Flood Frequency; Hydraulic geometry

Fitzpatrick et al., 2006;

Ch.5, p.167-187; Ch.3, p. 75-80

Flood Frequency

Long Profile Lab Due 10/26 (F)


Oct 29 – Nov 2

Drainage networks and channel integration

Ch. 2, p. 9-64


GIS – Watersheds I

FF Lab Due 11/2 (F)


Nov. 5-9

GSA Week

No Class on Tuesday - GSA

Landscape Evolution;

Watershed History and Channel Change

Discuss Walter & Merritts 2008

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

GIS – Watersheds II



Nov. 12-16

Physical modeling

Scaling relationships


Discussion of modeling papers

Multiple outside readings TBD

Physical modeling or Project Time



Nov. 19-23


Physical modeling/ Project time



No lab - Thanksgiving

Watershed Labs Due 11/20 (Tu)


Nov. 26-30

Riparian vegetation/Large Woody Debris


Dam removals

Outside Readings TBD

Dam Removal

Modeling Lab Due 11/30 (F)


Dec. 3-7

Stream restoration


Anthropogenic and Climatic Changes

Ch. 6, p. 302-335; Trush et al. 2000; Rosgen; Bernhardt

Channel history



Dec. 10-14

Last week of class

Tools in geomorphology

Student research presentations - Th

Fitzpatrick et al. 1999

No lab Friday

Channel history lab Due 12/11 (Tu)


Tuesday, Dec. 18th

Final Paper due at noon



Final Paper Due 12/18

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.  If you will be absent for an excused absence, please contact me in advance or as soon as you can to discuss how to make up catch-up on missed material.


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:


                                15%        Field trip #1

                                10%        Field trip #2

                                10%        Watershed lab

                                20%        Final project (proposal, presentation, report)

30%        Other labs combined (Sediment Transport, Long profile, Flood frequency, Physical modeling, Channel history, Jay Cooke)

                                10%        In-class exercises, problem sets, in-class labs with minimal write-up

                                5%          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


UMD Policies:

Students with disabilities:  It is the policy and practice of the University of Minnesota Duluth to create inclusive learning environments for all students, including students with disabilities.  If there are aspects of this course that result in barriers to your inclusion or your ability to meet course requirements – such as time limited exams, inaccessible web content, or the use of non-captioned videos – please notify the instructor as soon as possible.  You are also encouraged to contact the Office of Disability Resources to discuss and arrange reasonable accommodations.   Please call 218-726-6130 or visit the DR website at for more information. 


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.


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. Student are expected adhere to Board of Regents Policy: Student Conduct Code:  


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Academic Integrity:

Academic dishonesty tarnishes UMD’s reputation and discredits the accomplishments of students.  Academic dishonesty is regarded as a serious offense by all members of the academic community.  UMD’s Student Academic Integrity Policy can be found at: 


Excused Absences:

Students are expected to attend all scheduled class meetings.  It is the responsibility of students to plan their schedules to avoid excessive conflict with course requirements. However, there are legitimate and verifiable circumstances that lead to excused student absence from the classroom.  These are subpoenas, jury duty, military duty, religious observances, illness, bereavement for immediate family, and NCAA varsity intercollegiate athletics.  For complete information, please see: 


Appropriate Student Use of Class Notes and Course Materials:

Taking notes is a means of recording information but more importantly of personally absorbing and integrating the educational experience. However, broadly disseminating class notes beyond the classroom community or accepting compensation for taking and distributing classroom notes undermines instructor interests in their intellectual work product while not substantially furthering instructor and student interests in effective learning. For additional information, please see: