Geography 3511: Introduction to Hydrology

Spring 2016

Lecture Time/Location:
MW 3:00-4:15

GUGG 206

Lab Time/Location:
W 9-10:50 / TH 9-10:50


Instructor: Mark Serreze

Office Hours: MW 4:15-5:00


TA: Theo Barnhart


Hydrology is the science that describes and predicts the occurrence, circulation and distribution of the earth’s water. This course is about learning both the concepts and physical principles of water flow as well as techniques that can be used to solve hydrologic problems.   The course will emphasize two principal foci of hydrology:  (1) The global hydrologic cycle, which deals with transfers of water between the land surface and subsurface, the ocean and the atmosphere, and (2) The terrestrial phase of the hydrologic cycle, which addresses movement of water on and under the land surface, interactions with earth materials accompanying that movement, and the biological processes that affect that movement.  Hydrology is of ever growing relevance in today’s world, for human systems are intimately shaped by the availability, flows and quality of water.

The class starts with an overview of hydrology and its relevance, with particular attention to the challenges of water availability in the U.S. West.  Attention then turns to processes driving global climate and the hydrologic cycle, and drivers of precipitation, evaporation and their variability. Because of its importance in the U.S. west, special emphasis is given to issues related to snow and mountain snow packs.  An analysis of soil moisture and soil moisture flow is followed examination of streamflow, event response, floods and droughts.   Recent change in hydrologic systems will be a recurring theme.

The class will utilize lecture materials prepared by the instructor, as well as an on-line textbook.  Exams will cover materials from the lectures and textbook.  Exam questions will comprise a mix of numerical calculations, short answer and essay.  In addition to the lab assignments, there will be a series of homework assignments, collectively intended to improve familiarity with physical processes and techniques of hydrologic analysis.  Lecture notes and homework assignments will be posted on D2L; Dropboxes will be set up on D2L for homework assignments.  Lab assignments will be given to the TA before the start of the next lab.  As part of the lab assignments, we hope to take one or two field trips.  If you miss a lab without discussing the situation with the instructor and TA in advance, you will receive a zero for the lab.  If a problem arises and you cannot attend a lab, please inform us in advance.  Late homework assignments and labs will not be accepted unless the situation is discussed with the Instructor and TA and arrangements are made. 

The final grade will be based on the 10 lab assignments (40%), two mid-term exams (10% each, 20% total), the final exam (20%), and five homework assignments (20%).


Class Schedule (may be altered if the situation warrants)




Labs & Assignments

Jan 11, 13

Introduction to Hydrology and the Water Balance (Notes #1)

--The science of hydrology and the hydrologic cycle
--Water and the American west
--Properties of water
--The water balance

Margulis Chapter 1

Lab: Dimensional analysis and the water budget

Jan 18

No Class (Martin Luther King Day)



Jan 20, 25, 27

Climate, Energy Flows  and the Hydrologic Cycle (Notes #2)

--The inseparable link between the hydrologic cycle and energy flows
--Electromagnetic radiation
--Global Radiative balance
--Differential solar heating and atmospheric circulation

Margulis Chapters 3 & 4

Lab: Water budget and vegetation manipulation

Homework: Average latent and sensible heat fluxes of the planet

Feb 1, 3

Precipitation Processes and Measurements (Notes #3)

--Formation of snowflakes and raindrops
--Precipitation generating mechanisms
--Measuring Precipitation

Margulis Chapter 5

Lab: Hydrologic data and introduction to statistical techniques

Feb 8, 10

Spatial and Temporal Variability in Precipitation (Notes #4)

--Extremes for the U.S. and across the globe
--Basic patters across the U.S. and U.S. West
--Links with atmospheric and oceanic variability

Margulis Chapter 5


Homework: Precipitation recycling

Feb 15,17

Evapotranspiration and the Latent Heat Flux  (Notes #5)

--Relationship between evapotranspiration and the latent heat flux
--Requirements and physics
--Measuring evapotranspiration
--Potential and actual ET

Margulis Chapter 8


Homework: Pan and lake evaporation

Feb 22, 24

Review and Exam #1

Lab: Correlation between snow water equivalent and runoff

Feb 29, Mar 2

Snow Processes (Notes #6)

--Snow Formation,
--Snow Distribution,
--Snow Measurement

Margulis Chapter 6

Lab: Calculating snowmelt energy budgets

Mar 7, 9

Snowmelt and Energy Balance (Notes #7)

--The melt process
--Snow energy balance

Margulis Chapter 6


Homework: Energy required in melting snowpack

Mar 14, 16

Climate Change and Hydrology (Notes #8)

--The palecoclimate record
--Recent Changes
--Projections  for the future

Lab: Volume and timing of snowmelt in the Southern Rockies

Mar 21, 23

No Class (Spring Break)



Mar 28, 30

Water in Soils:  Unsaturated Flow and Infiltration (Notes #9)

--Soil characteristics, terminology and soil water storage
--Soil water flow
--Ponding and Overland flow

Margulis Chapter 7

Lab:  Evaluating Infiltration rates

Lab: Stream gauging excursion

Apr 4, 6

Review and Exam #2

Lab: Drainage networks

Apr 11, 13, 18

Runoff and Streamflow (Notes #10)

--Drainage networks
--Measuring streamflow
--Catchment response
--Overland and subsurface flow

Margulis Chapter 10


Homework: Streamflow characteristics

Apr 20, 25

Floods and Droughts (Notes #11)

--Floodplain Management
--Notable Floods
--Drought and Low Flow Analysis

Margulis Chapter 10
Lab: Flood frequency analysis
Apr 27 Review for Final


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