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GEOG289 Geomorphology

S1: First Semester

Coordinator: 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 characterized by rapidly evolving knowledge of earth processes that is frequently driven by technological developments. Although there is a strong field tradition in geomorphology current practice includes a wide of approaches across the spectrum of field mapping and description of landforms, use of remote sensing technologies, cutting-edge chemistry and 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 the 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 your 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; laboratories as required.

Paper title Geomorphology
Paper code GEOG289
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2021 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,092.15
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,004.75

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GEOG 101
GEOG 395
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 Co-ordinator: Professor Sean Fitzsimons

Paper Structure

The course is divided into three sections that deal with different aspects of geomorphology.

PART 1: An introduction to geomorphology that includes a review of the integrated nature of earth system science, the geological background necessary for understanding earth surface processes and a review of the core techniques used by geomorphologists.

PART 2: A review of key earth surface process regimes including weathering, slope stability, fluvial processes and landforms, erosion and deposition on the coast and glacial processes and landforms.

PART 3: An examination of large scale issues in landscape development including how active tectonic processes create landscapes, how climate change drives landscape change and the application of understanding of geomorphology to environmental management issues.

Assessment consists of a laboratory programme 45% (on-going during the semester), three take-home tests worth 15% together (on-going during the semester) and an external examination worth 40% (final examination).

Teaching Arrangements

2 lectures per week and 8 x 3 hour laboratory sessions scheduled over the 13 weeks of semester

Bierman and Montgomery (2013) Key Concepts in Geomorphology. W.H. Freeman. ISBN-10: 1429238607
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, 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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Not offered in 2021

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system