Geologic site analysis project

Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Ridge, 2010
Mt. St. Helens from Johnston Ridge, 2010
In this project, you will imagine that you want to build something (a house, for example). You will: (1) identify a site for your project; (2) Make a preliminary site description; and (3) Write a geologic site analysis detailing the site's geologic hazards and resources and how you will address them.

Your geologic site analysis is essentially the geologic portion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  An EIS is a document describing the way a human project will interact with the natural world.  The goal of an EIS is to ensure that the environmental impacts of a project are understood in advance so that rational decisions can be made.  For example, a proposed industrial farm might address possible impacts on groundwater and surface water, wildlife, etc.  Because this is a geology course, we will be concerned with the geological aspects of this report, such as landslides, volcanic hazard, etc.

Writing the geological part of an EIS has several purposes.  First, it is an excellent way to review topics spanning the whole field of environmental geology.  Second, the project is a good approximation of the kind of work you might be called on to perform as an environmental geologist.  Finally, whether or not you go into geology as a career, learning these skills will help you when you decide to buy a home.

This project is based on the work of Carson and Sadd, 1991 (JGE 39: 206-213).  

How to do this project

You will get the most out of this project if you understand exactly what I expect of you.  Take a look at the steps below, and be sure to ask me for help if you are confused about my expectations.

1. Identify your project area

First you must decide if you would like to work on your own or with a partner.  There are advantages and disadvantages to each.  With a partner you may be able to share some of the workload, but you will need to compromise on your project area and part of your grade on the project may be out of your control.  I will leave to you the decision of who you would like to work with, if anyone.

Next you need to choose a proposed project and a location.  Perhaps you are already planning to become wealthy and build a home in some beautiful location.  Perhaps you will open a new business somewhere.  Maybe you have an engineering bent and you want to build a bridge.  You can propose whatever project you like - you are only limited by your creativity.

Choosing a location is slightly trickier: you need to make sure there is enough information available about your site.  I have posted some resources below to get you started, so take a look and see what is available.  If you want to do your project in a particular place but you don't see much information about it, you will need to do a little sleuthing online or in the library to see if you can find enough information for your project.  Note that you will get extra credit later on for tracking down useful resources that are not in the resource list!

Finally, take a look at what hazards you will need to take into account for your area.  To get a list of these, take a look at my sample grading key.

2. Submit a preliminary proposal

Now that you have a location and a project, you will submit a preliminary proposal, consisting of a short typed proposal and a .kmz file.  You will submit these to me via your CLEo dropbox.

The written proposal will include:
  1. Your name
  2. A brief description of your prosed building project
  3. A preliminary ranking of the relative likelihood of different hazards.  For example: (1) slope failure, (2) earthquake, etc.
  4. A list of the hazards that would not be important at your site.  For example, for a site in South Dakota: (1) coastal erosion, (2) lahars, etc.
  5. A preliminary assessment of groundwater potential.  For example: "abundant deep, slightly brackish groundwater in gravel."
Identify the tentative location of your site (you may change your mind later) with a Google Earth kmz file, like this:
  1. Download Google Earth or find a computer that has Google Earth.
  2. Using the Google Earth's navigation tools, navigate to your site and zoom in.
  3. Use the 'Add Placemark' button at the top of the screen to mark your location.  Give it a name like "John Doe site" (um, assuming your name is John Doe).  The new Placemark will appear in the Places menu on your left. 
  4. Right-click the Placemark text in the Places menu, and select "Save Place As".  Give it your name (e.g. JohnDoe.kmz) and save it.
Upload the written report and your kmz file to your CLEo dropbox on the date indicated on the course schedule.  This part of the project is worth 10% of your project grade.

3. Write your geological site analysis

Once you have gotten my comments back for your proposal, you will be ready to write your report.  Your report will contain the following information:
  1. A justification for your choice of the particular location you selected
  2. A map of your project area in either of these two formats:
    1. A full-page map as a figure in your document, at an appropriate scale (1:24000 for example), including the exact location of you proposed project, a scale bar, and a north arrow.  There are many ways to make this map.  You can photocopy the appropriate part of a 7.5' topographic quadrangle map and draw your location, scale bar, etc. directly on the map.  You can find a topographic map online and use a drawing program to add the site drawing.  You could use the tools in a program like Google Earth to draw points, lines and polygons as necessary and then use the print function to save a pdf.  If you have studied GIS in another course you could even use ArcGIS, available in several computer labs on campus, to make your map.  You may use whatever method you like, but please note that I want to see elevations (e.g. topographic map contours) so you will need to do more work to make this work in Google Earth.
    2. Alternatively, instead of a figure, you may submit a digital kmz file that you make in Google Earth (if you do this, you don't need to explicitly add elevation data because I will see elevation data in Google Earth; likewise, scale bars are unnecessary because the program provides them):
      1. As before, mark your site with a placemark.
      2. You can also use the polygon tool and path (line) tool to draw directly on the screen (don't close the dialog box until you have finished drawing).
      3. Right click on Places and choose Add Folder.  Give it a name for your project.  Drag all of your placemarks, paths, and polygons into the folder.
      4. Right-click the folder and save it as a kmz with your name.
  3. A description of each geologic hazard, whether or not it exists for your particular site, and your basis for deciding the relative danger from each hazard.  Cite the resources you use.
  4. A plan to address the following additional issues:
    1. Water source: how will you get water?  Are you in a city with a municipal water supply?  Can you drill a well?  What is the likely quality and availability of groundwater?
    2. Waste disposal: how will you deal with waste and garbage collection?  Is there a sewer system?  If not, what about a septic tank - is there a place for a drain field?
    3. Access: how will you get to the site?  Will your road be subject to hazards like storms, earthquakes, or landslides?
  5. A list of references.  There should be one and only one reference for each citation in the paper.  Every fact that you look up will need a reference associated with it.
Your completed analysis is due in your CLEo dropbox by the date shown on the course schedule.

How I will grade this project

Here is a list of the things I will look for in your final report.

Purpose and site choice:
    • Site justification
    • Project originality
    • Site access
    • Caption or title
    • North arrow
    • Scale bar
    • Contour lines with contour interval or other measure of elevation
    • Location clearly marked
    • Volcanism
    • Faults, earthquakes
    • Tsunamis
    • Mass wasting
    • Subsidence from withdrawals or karst landscapes
    • Erosion by streams, waves, and wind
    • Floods, and any dams upstream
    • Soil erosion, expanding soils, and salinization
    • Storms
    • Freeze-thaw and permafrost
Resources buried

Water supply: groundwater, surface water, or municipal, with description of source

Waste disposal: how you will deal with liquid and solid waste

Project's environmental impact and how you will mitigate the damage, during construction and thereafter

Writing quality:
    • Grammar
    • Spelling
    • References cited
    • Organization

Reference list

Good news!  Since the last time I taught this course, a new web-based search tool has made it much easier to locate map-based references for your study area.  The USGS is now maintaining an interactive Map Viewer that lists all maps available in an area.  To find it, go to this website:

I will keep the old information below because it is still valuable.  Look at both resources.  Most of the resources below are maps, some are documents, and many have both components.

Q: Do I have to use the resources below?  Am I restricted to the geographic regions on this list?

A: No, in fact you are encouraged to find more resources.  This list is meant to be a starting place.  In fact, if you find a resource that is useful and is either not on this list or supersedes something on this list, let me know - you will get extra credit for your project!

General references

Guidelines for preparing geologic reports

Land use planning and geology

Regional, USA, and global references

Earthquakes and seismicity

Landslides and slope failure

  • Radbruch-Hall et al., 1982, Landslide overview map of the conterminous United States, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1183:

Soil hazards


  • USGS, Volcanic hazard data for specific volcanic centers:
  • Elms et al., 1990, Natural hazards map of the Circum-Pacific Region, Pacific Basin Sheet, USGS Circum-Pacific Map CP-35:
  • Luedke and Smith, 1984, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in the western conterminous United States, USGS Miscellaneous Investigations Series Map I-1523:
  • Luedke and Smith, 1978, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in Arizona and New Mexico, USGS IMAP: 1091-A: Available at Penrose Library
  • Luedke and Smith, 1978, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in Colorado, Utah, and southwestern Wyoming, USGS IMAP: 1091-B:
  • Luedke and Smith, 1981, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in California and Nevada, USGS IMAP: 1091-C: Available at Penrose Library
  • Luedke and Smith, 1982, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in Oregon and Washington, USGS IMAP: 1091-D:
  • Luedke and Smith, 1983, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in Idaho, western Montana, west-central South Dakota, and northwestern Wyoming, USGS IMAP: 1091-E:

State references


For all of Alabama:
  • Chermock, 1976, Hurricanes and tornadoes in Alabama, Geol. Sur. of Alabama Information Series 46: Available at Penrose Library
By county:


For all of Alaska:
Central Yukon – Koyukuk Lowland:


You can search for additional references from the Arizona Geological Survey:

General references:


For all of California:
All of California Coast:
  • CA Coastal Commission publication list:
  • Griggs and Savoy, eds., 1985, Living with the California Coast, Durham, N.C. : Duke University Press: Available at Penrose Library
  • Tsunami hazard maps for California,
  • Kennedy, Greene, and Clarke, 1988, Geology of the California Continental Margin (explanation of the California Continental Margin Geologic Map Series), CGS B-207: Available at Penrose Library
Los Angeles:
  • USGS Professional Paper 1360:
  • Cooke, 1984, Geomorphological hazards in Los Angeles : a study of slope and sediment problems in a metropolitan county: Available at Penrose Library
Mt. Shasta
San Francisco Bay region:


For all of Colorado:
Boulder - Fort Collins - Greeley:
Colorado Springs - Castle Rock:
Everwood - Castle Rock:
Evergreen, Jefferson County:




  • Fletcher et al., 2004, Atlas of natural hazards in the Hawaiian coastal zone:
  • Luedke and Smith, 1988, Map showing distribution, composition, and age of Late Cenozoic volcanic centers in Hawaii, USGS IMAP: 1091-G: Available at Penrose Library



Statewide resources:
Portland area:
Tualatin Valley Region:


For all of Utah:
Kaiparowits Plateau:
Salt Lake City:


Coastal Washington:
For all of Puget Lowland:
Gig Harbor:
Island County:
Kitsap County: 
Mount Rainier:
Mount St. Helens:
Port Townsend:
San Juan County:
Seattle area:
Skagit County:
Southern Hood Canal Area:
Thurston County:
Whatcom County:


For all of Wyoming:
Jackson, Teton Co.