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Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Plotting a profile of a river valley slopeThis manual contains a procedure for plotting a geomorphological profile of the valley of a small river or stream with the help of a simple leveling instrument. The work includes construction of the leveling instrument, selection of the site for vertical surveying, determining the slope profile and presentation of results.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


When concluding ecological research connected with studies of natural complexes, it is necessary to graphically present the interrelations among the main components of the environment: geological foundation, relief, soil, vegetation and fauna. Such data can be obtained in two major ways: by plotting a landscape map or as a result of laying a complex landscape profile.

Complex profiles, which cross main relief elements that are typical for the studied area, provide a better visual conception of interrelations among the environmental components. The complex landscape profile includes images of all main environmental components starting from relief and ending with wildlife.

The relief profile, i.e. graphical representation of the area “from the side," as a cross-section, or more often – along the line that goes across main relief forms, makes the basis of a complex profile.

Plotting of a relief profile is one of the forms of so-called vertical surveying of an area. In contradiction to horizontal surveying (making a plan of the area,) it allows you to make a visual representation of relief of the studied site.

This lesson will result in plotting a relief profile; it is advised to plot a profile of the valley of a small river or stream. Acquired knowledge and skills, as well as results obtained at the given lesson, will lay the foundation for conducting integrated research aimed at the study of interrelations of natural components on the basis of the landscape profile.

The following items are necessary for this lesson: 2 school leveling instruments, 50-meter measuring tape, compass, scale paper.

Making a school level

A school level is simplest instrument designed for determination that one point on the area is above (higher) than another one while completing a vertical survey of the area.

The leveling instrument can be easily made. It consists of two stakes, attached to each other in the form of a “T." The vertical stake is 1 meter high, and the horizontal slat (a sight) is about 20-30 cm long and is fixed strictly perpendicular to the vertical stake. The junction of two rods should be as rigid as possible, so that the perpendicularity of the angle will not change in the course of long-term use. For this purpose, it is recommended to fix the rods with two plywood or plastic triangles from both sides. The height of the level from the top surface of the vertical slat down to the bottom of the vertical pole should be exactly one meter. That is why it is recommended to use a rod slightly longer than one meter to make the leveling instrument. After the rods are attached together, you can measure the length and cut off the lower end.

At the junction of the rods, small nail is knocked in, and a small weight, for example, a nut, is hung from the nail on a string. The verticalness of the level will be judged by the position of this plumb bob.

The vertical, one-meter rod is marked into sections of 5 cm long from the top to the bottom with the help of a permanent marker; the top surface of the horizontal slat is taken as a zero point, and the bottom of the vertical pole is marked as 100 cm.

In order to make sighting easier, two nails (without heads) are nailed into the edges. The nails serve as “foresights” for “taking aim." However, if you wish, the level can be made without them.

It is recommended to make two identical leveling instruments for this lesson.

Selecting a site for vertical surveying

This educational task is aimed at plotting a relief profile of a small river or stream valley with subsequent analysis of interrelations among landscape components including relief, soil, vegetation and snow cover at the same site. Thus, the site should be chosen in accordance with the set goal.

An optimal site is a section of valley of a small river or a stream, where attitudes of the water level and the top point of relief vary within the range of 5-15 meters. It is important that the distance between these extreme points is not very large – within...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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