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Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Daria N. Zasko, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Complex comparative description of small rivers and streamsThis manual provides a simple scheme of exploring simple hydrological as well as chemical and biological features of a water body. A simple form of data description was developed in order to simplify the recording of survey data and its standardization. This form includes all general data on the water body, which can be collected without using special devices or equipment.

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.


Conducting hydrological studies can be a very complex and difficult task. This manual contains the simplest procedure for exploring a body of water, attempting a description, and the preliminary evaluation of its environmental state. This procedure is based on visual examination, requiring no special equipment, instruments or technical devices.

This lesson is designed to be conducted by several groups of students (3-5 pupils), each group studying its own body of water (a small river or a stream). After all the field data has been collected, the groups compare their results. Another option is that one group studies several water bodies and then compares the results.

The following items are required for the research: a measuring tape (from 5 to 50 meters long, a pole marked into 10 cm segments, thermometers, plastic bottles for water samples, 10-20 liter plastic bag or bucket, a watch with a second hand and chemical test kits or reagents.


General information

The following procedure of exploring the description of a water reservoir can be applied to any small water body: a river, stream, pond, lake or reservoir. Larger bodies such as seas or oceans require other procedures for description.

In order to make recording easier when conducting an exploratory survey, an Exploratory Description Form for a water body was developed (Table 1 at the end of this manual). All research is based on filling the form out and analyzing the information.

Filling out the form starts immediately in the field. The data of additional research as well as the results of field data handling will be recorded on the back of the form. Names of those who conducted the survey should also be written on the back of the form.

The following information is to be included on the main (front) part of the form:

Date of observation - day, month, year.

Weather conditions - weather conditions of the day when the observation was carried out should be described - air temperature in the shade, cloudiness (according to a 10-point scale, where 0 = completely bright sky, and 10 = totally overcast sky), wind strength (no wind, gentle breeze, strong), absence/presence of precipitation, if precipitation is present, then its type (rain/snow) and intensity (slight, strong). During cold times of year, occurrence and depth of snow cover on the shore as well as ice and snow on the water surface should be recorded.

Type and name of the water body (for example: Oak Creek, Missouri River, etc.)

Location of the studied area (observation site) - name of the administrative district where the observation site is located and its distance from the nearest human settlement or any other constant landmark (for example, 300 m up/down the town/settlement N, dam, bridge, etc.)

Vicinity description (description of the surrounding environment) - that surrounds the water body. If there is a settlement, then its type (city, town), type of housing system (stone many-storied/low-storied buildings, wooden houses, summer houses, sheds (barns), garages, etc.) should be recorded. If there is an industrial zone then its features should be written down, if there is a forest - what kind (coniferous, deciduous, coniferous-broad leafed), if there is an agricultural land then it should be specified - fields, meadows, pastures etc.

Morphometrical features of the site - its width, average depth (in meters), stream velocity (in meters per second), shore type (sloping, steep, beach, artificial bank), slope of the bottom (slopping, abrupt, steep), if possible, slope in degrees.

All these measurements are taken in the same part of the water body where the survey ...


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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