Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

GEOG454 Alpine Geomorphology

Semester One, 20 points

Lectures: Tuesday: 10am – 11.50am

Course Lecturer: Professor Sean Fitzsimons –

The focus of this course is on understanding the development of mountains. This focus draws us into analyzing the interactions between tectonic processes that build topography and erosion processes that destroy topography. Our location in the South Island of New Zealand places us in a landscape driven by the interaction between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates and the intense westerly circulation system. The results of this interaction are a cascade of processes characteristed by rock uplift rates and erosion rates that are amongst the highest on Earth. By the end of this course you will have a detailed knowledge and understanding of these landscape development processes and you will be able to account for why the rates of landscape change are so high.

GEOG454 students assembling a Mackereth corer at North Lake MavoraIf you choose to study Alpine Geomorphology at the University of Otago you will undertake a programme of directed reading, a three or four day field school in a mountain landscape, laboratory work on the analysis of data collected in the field, present a seminar to the class and undertake a take-home examination.

During the field school you will learn about how mountain landscape development can be reconstructed from lake sediments, which will involve mapping landforms, coring lake sediments and using geophysical survey equipment. Related laboratory work will introduce you to particle size analysis of fine sediments using a laser diffraction particle size analyser and an elemental analyser to determine the Carbon and Nitrogen composition of the sediments.

^ Top of page


Earth surface processes and resultant landforms in high altitude and high latitude areas.

Paper title Alpine Geomorphology
Paper code GEOG454
Subject Geography
EFTS 0.1667
Points 20 points
Teaching period First Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,307.76
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,517.77

^ Top of page


The content of this paper assumes that students will have completed an undergraduate degree in Geography, Earth Science or Geology

Please contact Professor Sean Fitzsimons for information on the recommended background for this paper

Teaching staff
Course Instructor: Professor Sean Fitzsimons
Paper Structure


  • Mountain geomorphology
  • Alpine sediment transfer
  • Lake sedimentary processes
  • Alluvial fans

Field School:

  • Mapping landforms
  • Environmental monitoring: temperature, precipitation, river stage, sediment tracking and accumulation
  • Coring
  • Geophysical survey


  • A survey of alpine landscape development processes
  • Case studies from different mountain systems

This paper is 100% internally assessed

Teaching Arrangements

One 1:50-minute lecture per week

Text books are not required for this paper, but Bierman and Montgomery (2013) Key Concepts in Geomorphology is a useful resource. (Available on close reserve in the Science Library)
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Communication, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
  • Understanding of the complex nature of interactions between tectonic and surface processes
  • Understanding how mountain development is driven by tectonic and climatic processes
  • Knowledge and understanding of the erosion, transportation and deposition processes in an alpine setting
  • The ability to reconstruct landscape change using lake sediments
  • An advanced ability to integrate field and laboratory evidence of landscape change

^ Top of page


First Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Tuesday 10:00-11:50 9-14, 16, 18-22