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Isotope Hydrograph Separa4on with Real Data

What is hydrograph separa<on? An approach to dividing

streamow into contribu4ons from the current precipita4on
event versus water already stored within the watershed before
precipita4on started (new vs. old water). This technique
revolu4onized understanding of catchment processes.


Anne J. Jeerson1 and David Dees2

1Department of Geology, Kent State University,

2Center for Teaching and Learning and School of Founda4ons, Leadership and Administra4on, Kent State University

Overall Project: Hands on Experiences with Stable Isotopes in the Geosciences

Stable isotopes are used throughout earth and environmental
science, and students may be exposed to isotope concepts in
mul4ple undergraduate courses. However, students may
struggle to correctly interpret isotope ra4os and few students
understand how isotope measurements are made.

Project Goals:

Understand the eec4veness

of hands-on experiences and
and data analysis on student
content knowledge and
Develop and disseminate
educa4onal materials using
stable isotopes

New laser-based technologies lower the barrier to entry for

giving students hands on experience with isotope
measurements and data analysis. We hypothesized that
such integra4ng such ac4vi4es into the curriculum will
increase student content knowledge and mo4va4on to
Teach with

Our approach:

knowledge &


ac4vity + data +
Teach with only
data analysis +
Teach with
lecture only

knowledge &

Rene and

Embedded at end of Watershed Hydrology class, for

undergraduate and graduate Geology students.
objec<ves of this exercise are to:
1)quan4fy the frac4ons of pre-event and event water during a
storm or series of storms
2)discuss what insights isotope hydrograph separa4on provides
into the ow genera4on mechanisms and hydrologic behavior of the study watershed; and
3)iden4fy and discuss uncertain4es in the approach taken and possible alternate approaches that address some
of the uncertain4es
This exercise relates to the following overall course learning objec<ves.
1. Describe and analyze the owpaths and transit 4me of water and solutes in a watershed
2. Explain and apply eld measurements and analy4cal computa4ons used to quan4fy hydrologic processes

Teaching Hydrograph Separa4on Three Ways:

1. Lecture Only (Spring 2013):
Lecture content on isotopic concepts and watershed processes precede exam

Measuring Student Outcomes

We obtained IRB approval for the study and students
consent to par4cipate. Instructors are blinded to
Before and afer the isotope module, we use surveys
designed to iden4fy the inuence that the
environment has on students approaches to learning
Learning and Studying Ques4onnaire (LSQ) (pre)
Experiences of Teaching and Learning
Ques4onnaire (ETLQ) (post)
Surveys are not administered by instructors
Content knowledge is evaluated using pre- and post-
tests wri9en and administered by instructors
Afer the semester, focus groups provide further
insight as follow-up from surveys

Example Pre/Post-Test Ques4on

Illustrated below is the hydrograph response of a forested

watershed to the given input of precipita4on. Draw a line on the
diagram indica4ng the rela4ve propor4ons of pre-event versus
event water at each 4mepoint.

This material is based upon work supported by the

Follow the project and access modules and data here:
Na4onal Science Founda4on under Grant No. DUE-1140980. h9ps://

2. Lecture + Hands-on Ac<vity (Spring 2014):

Students collect baseow and deploy autosamplers before rain events
Composite and incremental precipita4on samples are collected during the events
Students receive training and analyze samples on a laser spectrometer
Students use their data to complete a hydrograph separa4on and interpret results
3. Data Analysis Only (Fall 2015):
Students are provided with hydrologic and isotopic data collected spring 2014

Student Outcomes


West Branch of the Mahoning

River, which ows through a
research reserve on Kent State
University property and is used
by numerous classes

There were no signicant dierences in content

knowledge gain with instruc4onal style. Nega4ve outliers are students with high
pre-test scores.
In focus groups, all students agreed that their approach to learning was not
shifted in any signi6icant manner in response to differential content delivery.
Students identi6ied assessment style as important to whether they adjust their
learning strategies and approach to course material.

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