Geology 360

GEOL 360 (GEOS 350)


Catalog Entry

GEOL 360 Geomorphology
Three hours lecture; three hours laboratory (4)

Prerequisites: GEOL 105

Introduction to surficial processes and landforms. Fluvial, eolian, glacial, karst, and coastal zone processes analyzed. Map and air photo interpretation included.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

The content of this course consists of the fundamentals of the study of landforms and landscapes. The discipline of Geomorphology overlaps the general subject areas of Geology and Physical Geography and, as a consequence, this course is offered as an upper-level course for both majors. The study of landforms has three components. First, landforms and landscapes can be measured, mapped, and described. This purely descriptive phase is known as form. Secondly, each landform has an origin which is the result of one or more geologic events. Origin is termed process. Thirdly, the landforms develop at varying rates, at different times, and perhaps as units within a sequence of landscape development. The time context of landscape evolution is known as stage. This course emphasizes form, process, and stage in an interrelated capacity. Many modern geomorphological techniques are highly quantitative. Some of these are introduced to the students who then work problems using these techniques. The physics and chemistry of weathering, erosion, sedimentation, and other processes are taught. The onset of the course addresses general geomorphic principles and the role of controlling factors such as climate and global tectonism on the Earth's surficial processes. The remainder of the course is largely organized into the various types of landforms. These correspond to distinct realms of climate and energy. Each major process is considered to be a system with energy and mass inputs and outputs; yet, aggregate processes are often combined into larger systems. The range of size and complexities of geomorphic systems is stressed throughout the course. The following topics (in order) are covered during the course:

  • The geomorphic system; Approaches to geomorphology
  • Morphologic evolutionary systems
  • Cascading process systems
  • Diastrophism
  • Igneous activity and landforms
  • Structure and landforms
  • Lithology and landforms
  • Weathering and Soils
  • Mass movement; Hillslopes
  • Rivers
  • Drainage basins
  • Fluvial depositional landforms
  • Coastal geomorphology
  • Karst
  • Aeolian processes
  • Glacial geomorphology


Detailed description of conduct of course.

The course emphasizes modern geomorphology. This includes quantitative techniques and the study of Quaternary climates. Lectures present the various principles and theories of the discipline. Problems assigned in class, from the course laboratory manual and as handouts, reinforce these concepts. Problems involve an understanding of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. The student is expected to spend a substantial amount of time solving the assigned problems. The problem sets are graded. The laboratory part of the course emphasizes interpretation of maps (topographic and geologic) and remotely sensed data (e.g. aerial photography). There are also many exercises that include quantitative problem solving. There is at least one fieldtrip during the course to interesting geomorphic sites in the Radford/New River Valley vicinity.

A research paper is assigned for the semester. A topic in geomorphology is chosen by the student who must then search the technical literature for relevant and recent material to be included in a bibliography. The paper is graded on technical content, writing style and grammar, depth of coverage, clarity, relevance to the course, organization, continuity, and neatness.

Geomorphology is an important component of environmental geology. For this reason, information on natural hazards and man's effect on surficial processes is a strong part of the lectures.


Goals and Objectives of Course

1. Students will better understand the scope and complexities of the study of surficial processes from the standpoints of form, process, and stage.
2. Students will be able to use modern approaches to solve geomorphic problems and interpret landscape evolution from a systems standpoint.
3. Students will develop analytical techniques through problem solving. They will attain an appreciation for detailed, quantitative work and develop an understanding of state-of-the art quantitative techniques such as computer graphics and statistical analysis.
4. Students will be able to learn laboratory and field techniques in order to show how the theory is applied toward real problems in various geologic settings.
5. Students will learn about the needs of society for qualified geomorphologists to help prevent and mitigate environmental problems. They will become familiar with the role of the geomorphologist in the planning process during economic growth and development.


Assessment Measures

The student is evaluated in every aspect of his or her work. There are three major examinations in the course. These include short-answer questions, brief written explanations, and quantitative problems to solve. Homework problem sets, laboratory exercises, and the research paper are graded. The attitude, preparation, and participation of the student in class and on fieldtrips is assessed as well.


Other Course Information

This course may be taken for partial fulfillment of the Engineering Geoscience option for the Bachelor of Science degree in Geology.


  • Bloom, A. L., Geomorphology: A Systematic Analysis of Late Cenozoic Landforms, (second edition), Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 532 p.
  • Ritter, D.F., 1986, Process Geomorphology, (second edition), William C. Brown, Dubuque, Iowa, 579 p.
  • Chorley, R.J., Schumm, S.A., and Sugden, D.E., 1984, Geomorphology, Methuen, New York, 605


Approval and Subsequent Reviews

Date Action Reviewed by
September 2005 Reviewed Bernd H. Kuennecke

February, 2010