Course overview:

From the NRC report Landscapes on the Edge: New Horizons for Research on Earth’s Surface (Pg. 18): “Earth’s surface is a dynamic interface across which the atmosphere, water, biota, and tectonics interact to transform rock into landscapes with distinctive features crucial to the function and existence of water resources, natural hazards, climate, biogeochemical cycles, and life. Interacting physical, chemical, biotic, and human processes—’Earth surface processes’— alter and reshape Earth’s surface on spatial scales that range from those of atomic particles to continents and over time scales that operate from nanoseconds to millions of years.

In this class, we will study many of the ‘Earth surface processes’ that govern landscape evolution. Our mantra will be “process from form.” That is, the form of a landscape can provide insight into the physical processes responsible for its creation. Specifically, we will study river, hillslope, glacier, and coastal processes.

Instructor: Noah Finnegan

Contact Info: Office: E&MS A115, email: nfinnega@ucsc.edu

Office Hours: Friday, 10 AM – 12 PM or by appointment (email please)

Lectures: T/Th 1:30 – 3:05 PM, E&MS D250

Teaching Assistants:

Alex Nereson, anereson@ucsc.edu, office hours: TBA

Colleen Murphy, cormurph@ucsc.edu, office hours: TBA

Lab 1: Wednesday, 1:30 PM – 4:30 PM, EMS D250

Lab 2: Thursday, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM, EMS D250

Text: R.S. Anderson and S.P. Anderson: The Mechanics and Chemistry of Landscapes


  • 7 lab exercises
  • 2 Reports Based on Field Trips (1/20/18, 2/10/18)
  • In Class Mid-Term (2/8/18)
  • Open Book, Open Notes, Take Home Final


Labs and problem sets can and should be done together in groups. Although I encourage you to discuss together the data collected during the weekend field trips I expect that you will ultimately work alone in actually drafting the scientific reports. If you collaborate on the writing of a scientific report with another person, you will both receive no credit for the report. I will give you very specific objectives for the reports when I assign them.

The weighting of the assignments for the 5 credit lecture is as follows

Report 1 – 30%

Report 2 – 30% *

*Together Reports 1 and 2 constitute 1/2 of the UCSC disciplinary writing requirement

Mid-Term – 15%

Open Notes, Open Book, Take Home Final – 25%

Your lab grade will be separate from the lecture.

Late Policy: 10 % will be deducted for every day after the due date that an assignment or lab is turned in.

Attendance Policy: You are responsible for the material that is presented in class every day. It is in your best interest to attend class. I will not take attendance. However, it is VERY unlikely that you will be able to pass this course without attending the lectures. If you miss a class, please make arrangements to get a copy of lecture notes from a friend.

Distribution of Readings and Course Materials

For the reports, labs, and lectures I will periodically post materials on a shared Google Drive folder

Course Schedule and Reading Assignments

Week 1

1/9/18 Lecture 1. Syllabus overview, class pictures, why geomorphology? Classical views of Geomorphology

Lab 1: Excel Basics

1/11/18 Lecture 2. Precipitation, Runoff and Hydrographs

Reading For Class: P. 100-104; Chapter 11 (skip groundwater section)

Week 2

1/17/18 Lecture 3. Alluvial Rivers I

Reading For Class: 395-414, 340-343

Lab 2: Precipitation and Channel Flow on Titan; Surveying Basics, Quantifying Grain Size in a River,

1/18/18 Lecture 4. Alluvial Rivers II, Debris Flows, Effective Report Writing, Report 1 Assigned

1/20/18 Mandatory Fieldtrip 1, San Lorenzo River Valley (8 AM-6 PM), Meet at E&MS Loading Dock at 8 AM. Rain or Shine.

Reading for Fieldtrip: Montgomery and Buffington, 1997; USGS Fact Sheet 2004-3142

Week 3:

1/23/18. Lecture 5. Planform Morphology of Rivers, Alluvial Fans, Floodplains, and Deltas

Reading: TBD

Lab 3: Data Assimilation and Processing for Report 1

1/25/18 Lecture 6. Weathering and Soil Production

Reading For Class: Chapter 7

Week 4

1/30/18 Lecture 7. Hillslopes

Reading For Class: Chapter 10 through page 328,

Lab 4: Hillslope Sediment Transport

2/1/18 Lecture 8. Landslides and Mass-wasting, Report 1 Due

Reading For Class: 330-335 .

Week 5

2/6/18 Lecture 9. Landslides and Mass-wasting cont./Glaciers I

Reading For Class: Chapter 8

Lab 5: Glacial Geomorphology and Mechanics

2/8/18 Mid-Term Exam

2/10/18 Mandatory Fieldtrip 2, Sunol Ohlone Regional Wilderness (8 AM-6 PM), Meet at E&MS Loading Dock at 8 AM. Rain or Shine.

Reading For Fieldtrip TBD

Week 6

2/13/18 Lecture 10. Glaciers II.

Reading For Class: Chapter 8

Lab 6: Work on Report 2

2/15/18 Lecture 11.

Tectonic Geomorphology I – Orogen Scale,


Week 7

2/20/18 Lecture 12. Tectonic Geomorphology II – Bedrock River Channels

Reading for Class: Chapter 13

Lab 7: Climate, Tectonics and the Morphology of the Andes

2/22/18 Lecture 13., Whole Landscapes I: Coupling of Hillslope and Channel Processes

Week 8

2/27/18 Lecture 14. Geochronology and Geomorphology I.

Reading For Class: Chapter 6

Lab 8: Tectonics, Topography, and Bedrock River Profiles

3/1/18 Lecture 15. Geochronology and Geomorphology II, Report 2 Due

Reading For Class: Chapter 6

Week 9:

3/6/18 Lecture 16. Coastal Processes

Chapter 16

Lab 9: Santa Cruz Marine Terraces

3/8/18 Lecture 17. Coastal Processes cont. / Geomorphology and Tectonics of Santa Cruz

Reading TBD

Week 10:

3/13/18 Lecture 18. Eco-geomorphology

Lab 10: No Lab

3/15/18 Review For Final

Take Home Final Posted

3/22/18, 3 PM, Take Home Final due in my office (A115) or in my mailbox in the department office