Course: Surface Processes

Planetary surfaces are shaped by physical, chemical, and biological processes involving complex feedbacks and spanning a range of subaerial and subaqueous environments. In this undergraduate level course, students investigate these surface processes and their impact on the spatiotemporal evolution of planetary surfaces.

This course includes programming modules, whereby students develop their own implementations of basic surface process models. For example, when learning about sediment transport, students are asked to develop a Python model that predicts the settling velocity for a particle of a particular size \(D\), given a published formula (Ferguson & Church, 2004).

def calculate_particle_setting_velocity(D):
    """Particle settling velocity [m/s]
    C1, C2 = 18, 1  # constants in Ferguson-Church equation
    rhop, rhof = 2650, 1000  # particle and fluid density
    R = (rhop-rhof)/rhof     # particle specific density
    g, nu = 9.81, 1.002e-6   # gravitational constant and fluid dynamic viscosity
    w = ((R*g*D**2)/(C1*nu/rhof + (0.75*C2*R*g*D**3)**0.5))

    return w

This type of “active learning” is known to foster an intuitive understanding of scientific concepts (Prince, 2004), and provides students with a foundational understanding of scientific programming.

Course: Geologic History and Mapping Methods

Field methods
Students learning field mapping methods, pictured identifying cross stratification and formation.

Geologic intuition is built on an understanding of three-dimensional space and time interaction. Students taking this course learn the large-scale and deep-time history of North America, with emphasis on the American Southwest. Through field study and remote sensing, students of this undergraduate level course learn how to describe, identify, and interpret geological features in the field.

This course is accessible to all students, because it emphasizes remote sensing equally with field methods. GIS based outcrop mapping and interpretation of sedimentologic features via drone photogrammetry provides students with an opportunity to map from the laboratory and gain hands-on experience with modern geoscience technologies.

Importantly, this course teaches students to reconcile many observations, to form a comprehensive scientific “story” explaining the field area.

Incorporating computer based “active learning”

rivers2stratigraphy demonstration figure.
rivers2stratigraphy module after adjusting the subsidence rate of the basin to produce variable channel stacking patterns over the stratigraphic height. Channel color indicates subsidence rate while that channel-body was deposited (purple-to-yellow for slow-to-fast)

Active learning strategies improve student exam performance, engagement, attitudes, thinking, writing, self-reported participation and interest, and help students become better acquainted with one another (Prince, 2004). I am committed to using active learning approaches in the classrooms I lead. In particular, I am developing a comprehensive suite of interactive computer-based activities for sedimentology and stratigraphy courses (SedEdu).

The figure at right is the rivers2stratigraphy activity, which illustrates basin-scale development of fluvial stratigraphy through adjustments in system kinematics including sandy channel migration and subsidence rates. The activity allows users to change these system properties, so as to drive changing depositional patterns.

Relevant peer-reviewed publications

  1. Moodie, A. J., Carlson, B., Foreman, B. Z., Kwang, J., Naito, K., & Nittrouer, J. (in review). SedEdu: a suite of sediment-related educational modules. Journal of Open Source Education. doi: 10.21105.jose.00069 [link]


  1. Ferguson, R. I., & Church, M. (2004). A Simple Universal Equation For Grain Settling Velocity. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 6(3).

  2. Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. The Research Journal for Engineering Education, 93(3), 223–231. doi: 10.1002/j.2168-9830.2004.tb00809.x