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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.

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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 Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,348.60
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $5,967.53

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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 Co-ordinator: Professor Sean Fitzsimons

Paper Structure


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

Student seminars:

  • Each student will complete a seminar on an assigned topic and will submit a written paper based on the seminar.

Field School:

  • Mapping landforms
  • Environmental monitoring using a variety of techniques
  • Coring and geophysical survey of lakes
  • Application of understanding geomorphology to environmental management issues

“In 2021, the field school will be based in South Westland in April.”

The field school will involve:

  • Making observations on the impacts of seismic and storm-driven landscape disturbance
  • Understanding the imprint of glaciation on the landscape of south Westland
  • Undertaking an erosion assessment of tracks and roads for tourist access
  • Learning how landscape change is embedded in lake sediments
  • Making an evaluation of the hazards posed by episodic seismic shaking and storm events in south Westland

This paper is 100% internally assessed.

Teaching Arrangements

1 x 2 hour lecture per week


Textbooks 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

Students who successfully complete this paper will gain

  • 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
  • An understanding of how lake sediments can be used to reconstruct landscape change
  • An advanced ability to undertake research in the primary literature and write coherent and convincing arguments from that literature
  • An advanced ability to integrate field and laboratory evidence of landscape change

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Tuesday 10:00-11:50 9-13, 15-22