38:169 Discovering Physical Geography Assignment
Discovery Assignment: This is a required assignment for students in the 169 version of the course. The objective is to create a Wikipedia style entry for five selected topics covered in the course for a place of your choice and in doing so demonstrate your understanding of a topic or concept covered in the course. Your best strategy is to work on this project over the entire term; the deadline is the last day of the semester.
Start by selecting a place that you are interested in. You do not necessarily have to know anything about this place beforehand, in fact, it might be more interesting if you don’t. This place could be your home town, somewhere you have previously lived, or a place you have or would like to visit in the future. It would be best if you selected a place such as a town, city, Provincial or National Park, rather than a state, province, country or other larger region. You can start with an opening paragraph by simply identifying the place you have selected and describing its absolute and relative location, as discussed in Topic 2; you might want to include a map and/or picture of this place. Then, as we progress through the course you will learn about different topics in physical geography such as seasonality, energy balances, climate controls, water balances, groundwater, fluvial processes, floodplains, glaciers, soils, etc. etc. Select any five of these topics and create a Wikipedia style entry for each topic. I will mention possible topics from time to time throughout the course. Topics should normally be general themes or concepts such as those listed above, and not more specific concepts or features such as time zones or points bars. Some places will lend themselves to certain topics much more readily than others. For example, The Pas, Manitoba has lots of interesting glacial and fluvial landscapes nearby and an “interesting” climate, but no active volcanic features. You may include photos, tables, or other figures or diagrams, however, each of the five entries should include approximately two to three pages of written description, some may be shorter and some longer depending on the place you have selected and the topic covered, but your final assignment should be in the order of 10-15 pages of double spaced text, not including figures, tables, diagrams, etc., and references.
References should be included for all figures, tables, diagrams, etc. that are not your own work, as well as all factual statements within the written text that would not be considered “common knowledge” with respect to the intended audience. The format and style used to cite and reference the sources you used to complete your work varies according to discipline and field of study. Please consult Appendix E of the “Undergraduate Thesis Guidelines” for honors students in the Department of Geography for further instructions and examples of how to include citations within your text and compile your list of references. The course textbook will probably be the #1 source of information for you, and when you reference it you should include the relevant page number.
Your work should be submitted as a well formatted document with a cover page that includes a descriptive title and your name. Your work will be evaluated in terms of how well you have demonstrated an understanding of each of the five topics you have selected.
Outline and List of Topics Covered
Introduction – Introduce the place you have selected and describe its relative and absolute location. Consider including a location map. You could also comment on other characteristics such as its population or other unique attributes.
Seasonality (Earth-Sun Relations) – Describe the seasonality of the place you have selected. Does it have a winter and summer or no real seasons? Why? Discuss with reference to the “reasons for the seasons” covered in topic 2 and chapter 2 of the textbook. Consider calculating the angle of the noon sun on the longest and shortest days of the year; you could include a sketch and your calculations.
Energy Balances – Discuss the energy balance and net radiation expenditures at the place you have selected. If you can’t find actual data for your location you can discuss it in general terms similar to how we discussed the two sample stations (El Mirage, CA and Pitt Meadows, BC). For example, would the albedo be higher or lower than average resulting in more or less outgoing shortwave radiation? Is it a dry or wet location resulting in more or less net radiation being used for evaporating water? Would the Bowen ratio be high or low.
Temperature Controls – How do the four primary temperature controls discussed affect the temperature at your location? Does proximity to a large water body have an influence; is it a continental or marine type climate?
Atmospheric and Oceanic Circulation – Do unique regional or local scale atmospheric circulation patterns affect the climate of your location? For example, is the climate affected by a seasonal monsoon or local winds such as Chinooks or Katabatic winds. Do unusually warm or cold ocean currents moderate or otherwise affect the climate in a significant way?
Climate – No matter what place you select it has a characteristic climate. Climate data are widely available for many places on Earth, although you may have to search for data for a nearby larger city. Present the mean monthly and mean annual temperature and precipitation data for your place in the form of a table. Use these data to determine the Koppen-Geiger climatic class of your place (click here for a copy of the classification key). Construct a climograph of your location as described in class. Describe the major factors influencing the climate of your selected place.
Water Balance – Does the place you selected experience seasonal surpluses or deficits of water? How does this effect agriculture or runoff? To calculate the water balance you will need mean monthly precipitation and potential evapotranspiration data. If you can’t fine these data for you exact location, try to find it for a nearby weather station. Precipitation should be easy to find but PE may not be available. Maybe you can find a completed water balance graph for a nearby location and analyze the graph as part of your discussion. Check first before you plan to select this as one of your five topics. You can use the sample water balance table and graph available here to help you with your calculations and when constructing your water balance graph. Alternatively, the location you selected may rely on groundwater for either drinking, industrial, or agricultural use. Perhaps their are issues with groundwater mining or contamination; these would also be interesting topics to discuss.
Tectonics, Earthquakes and Volcanism – Has the place you selected ever been “rocked” (pun intended) by and earthquake? Or , is it in a volcanically active zone? Based on your knowledge of tectonics and the forces and types of faults and volcanic activity operating at different plate boundaries you should be able to discuss the type of faulting and/or volcanic activity (explosive vs. effusive) associated with your place.
Weathering – Is the place you selected particularly susceptible to any of the weathering processes we discussed? Is it located in a region of karst topography or exhibit any other unique landforms associated with physical or chemical weathering?
Mass Movements – Mass movements affect many landscapes and places; not just mountainous ones. Has the place you selected ever experienced a mass wasting event? If so, discuss the type of mass wasting event that occurred in terms of the criteria we discuss in class.
Fluvial Processes and Landforms – Many towns and cities are located near rivers since they have always provided a source of water and a means of transportation. Is your place located near a river? What is the channel morphology; is is braided or meandering? Is your place located in a floodplain or deeply incised river valley, is it susceptible to flooding? If it is an urban place, how might urbanization have affected the recurrence and severity of flooding?
Glacial Processes and Landforms – Glaciers have had a significant impact of the environments or most northern latitudes of the northern hemisphere and many alpine regions worldwide. Has the place you selected been glaciated during the Pleistocene? What evidence of glaciation still exists? Can you describe any specified landforms or landscapes?
Soils – Is the place you selected in an agricultural region or do the soils affect the physical geography in another way? If so, describe the soil characteristics of your place and it surrounding area and discuss why those soils are particularly fertile, or whatever the unique soil characteristics might be.
Other Topics? – There are other chapters in your textbook that we do not focus on in this course; specifically those on coastal processes and landforms and eolian processes and landforms, or weather systems and extreme weather such as tornadoes and hurricanes. If the place you selected is either along a coastline or in a desert environment, or experiences extreme weather events then you might want to consider including a topic related to these chapters, There are also many other topics related to physical geography that I have not included above, so if you believe your location is affected by other processes or landforms related to physical geography then please ask me about them and lets see if they make sense to include as a topic.