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GEOG395 Geomorphology

First Semester (S1)

Course Instructor: Professor Sean Fitzsimons


small ice cap in mid summer Ellesmere Island Canadian ArcticGeomorphology is the science of the form and development of the earth's surface as well as the processes that create it. As geomorphologists our principal aim is to understand landscapes and to explain how they have developed over time. The location of the earth's surface between the atmosphere and the solid earth means that geomorphology is a branch of science that sits at the interface of several subject areas including climatology, hydrology, geology, geophysics, biology and engineering. By drawing from several subject areas, geomorphology is an interdisciplinary science that is characterised by rapidly evolving knowledge of earth processes that is frequently driven by technological development. Although there is a strong field tradition in geomorphology current practice includes a wide range of approaches across the spectrum of field mapping and description of landforms, use of remote sensing technologies, cutting-edge chemistry, geophysics and numerical modelling.

Unnamed glacier in Axel Heiberg Island Canadian ArcticRegardless of your academic background you will find approaches and techniques that are familiar to you in this course and it will open your eyes to new ways of looking at and studying landscapes and environmental change.

If you choose to study geomorphology at the University of Otago you will be exposed to one of the most dynamic and intriguing field sites on earth: The Southern Alps. In the Southern Alps the interaction between tectonic processes and atmospheric circulation have led to uplift and erosion rates that are amongst the highest on earth.

Alluvial fans with debris flow tracks Axel Heiberg Island Canadian ArcticThis paper, like many geomorphology papers in universities, is taught at intermediate (200-level) to advanced levels (300-level). The principal difference between the second year paper (GEOG289) and the third year paper (GEOG395) is that the expectations are greater in terms of the depth of your knowledge and understanding of landscape development and you are expected to engage in more independent learning. Both papers share a common lecture programme and in the programme third year students undertake an independent project. The laboratory programmes of both courses have several short field-based exercises that will take you to a variety of locations around Dunedin.

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Sediment transport, sedimentology and geomorphology of rivers, evolution of river systems and river management; a project and laboratories as required.

Paper title Geomorphology
Paper code GEOG395
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,038.45
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,492.80

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54 GEOG points
GEOG 289
Schedule C
Arts and Music, Science
The content of this paper assumes that students have undertaken at least one introductory paper in Physical Geography, Earth Science or Geology.
Teaching staff
Course Lecturer: Professor Sean Fitzsimons
Paper Structure
Part 1: Introduction
  • Introduction to the course
  • Earth System Science
  • Geomorphology of plate margins
  • The geomorphologist's tool box
Part 2: Processes - source to sink
  • Weathering
  • Hydrology for geomorphology
  • Mass movement I
  • Mass movement II
  • Fluvial processes I
  • Fluvial processes II
  • Coastal and submarine processes I
  • Coastal and submarine processes II
  • Glacier Dynamics I
  • Glacier Dynamics II
  • Glacial landforms
  • Volcanic processes and landforms
  • Lakes as environmental archives I
  • Lakes as environmental archives II
Part 3: Large-scale issues
  • Tectonic geomorphology
  • Geomorphology and climate
  • Large-scale landscape evolution
  • Geomorphology in Environmental Management
  • Review and examination preparation
Teaching Arrangements
24 lectures
8 laboratories

  • Laboratory programme 40%
  • Take-home test 20%
  • Final examination 40%
Bierman and Montgomery (2013) Key Concepts in Geomorphology. W.H. Freeman. ISBN-10: 1429238607
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Communication, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
  • The ability to "read" landscapes: to understand how they have formed and how they change over time
  • Understanding of the relationships between tectonic and surface processes
  • Understanding of earth surface processes associated with hillslopes, rivers, coasts and glaciers
  • Knowledge of the strength and behaviour of rock, soil and water
  • Knowledge and understanding of the erosion, transportation and deposition processes
  • Knowledge of a range of techniques used in the investigation of earth surface processes and landforms

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First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Monday 10:00-10:50 9-13, 16-22
Tuesday 10:00-10:50 9-13, 16-22
Wednesday 16:00-16:50 10, 22


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
P1 Monday 14:00-16:50 9-13, 16-22
P2 Tuesday 14:00-16:50 9-13, 16-22