Curriculum for Educators

For educators, OpenTopography provides curriculum modules that include lesson outlines, sample datasets, and student activities to integrate topographic data into the classroom.

High Resolution Topography in the Classroom

Indiana White River Meanders Mapping Exercise
In this exercise for undergraduates, students use hillshade images derived from airborne lidar from a section of the White River in Indiana to map how the river has changed over the span of five years. Students learn to identify and describe how river meanders and oxbow lakes evolve. They also evaluate the longer-term evolution of the river's form and assess how local infrastructure may be impacted.

Topographic differencing: Earthquake along the Wasatch fault
Undergraduate-oriented exercise where students pretend that they are geologists working for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and must respond to a recent earthquake along the Wasatch Fault. They aid in the response by mapping the surface rupture and calculating the surface displacement, coseismic slip, and earthquake magnitude from high resolution lidar topographic imagery acquired before and after the earthquake.

A Structural Geology Exercise for Remotely Examining Folds at Painted Canyon Near the San Andreas Fault
In this activity designed for a structural geology class, students use CloudCompare to make orientation measurements of a fold near the San Andreas Fault.

OpenLandform Catalog
The OpenTopography OpenLandform Catalog serves as a resource to explore geologic landforms in high resolution topography for teachers, students, or any interested user. The catalog includes a list of geologic landforms sourced from data hosted by OpenTopography separated into categories based on formative processes, along with a brief description of the landform, a link to the dataset page, and pre-generated data products.

(left to right) White Sands New Mexico hillsahde image, DEM image, and Garlock Fault hillshade image, DEM image.

Community Resources

This table features more hands on resources and tools for applying lidar data to teach Earth science. Resources were sourced from OpenTopography short courses as well as the Earth science education community. If you have a lab or exercise associated with lidar or OpenTopography, please email us at if you'd like it included in this list.

Title & Link
Topics & Content
Geology of Yosemite Valley
  • Geology of Yosemite Valley Virtual Field Trip
  • El Capitan Geologic Map Cross-Cutting Relationship exercise
  • Geomorphic Mapping of Yosemite Valley exercise
Dr. Nicolas Barth, Activity is part of SERC's Teaching with Online Field Experiences Exemplary Collection High school - undergraduate (different parts for high school through upper-division undergraduate)
Wallace Creek Field Trip Student Guide
  • Measure offset channels by San Andreas fault using hillshade imagery in Google Earth.
  • Plate motion by GPS velocities.
  • This exercise is paired with Wallace Creek Virtual Field Trip.
OpenTopography Short Course Undergraduate
Making a Geologic Map with ArcGIS
  • Making a geologic map using ArcGIS 9.3.
  • Georeferencing basemap and digitizing geologic maps.
GSA Short Course, Dr. Mike Oskin, UC Davis Undergraduate
Slip Rates and Uncertainty at Wallace Creek

Wallace Creek Sample data (.zip)
  • Examines calculation of slip rates for strike-slip fault.
  • Uses simple measurement, geomorphic mapping, and quantitative matching to determine and compare slip rates.
GSA Short Course, Dr. Mike Oskin, UC Davis Undergraduate - graduate
LaDiCaoz Tutorial

LaDiCaoz Software (Dropbox)
  • LaDiCaoz: A MATLAB GUI to calculate lateral displacement of offset geomorphic features.
  • Featured in several short course exercises listed below.
Dr. Olaf Zielke, Arizona State University, OpenTopography Short Course Undergraduate - Graduate
Extracting Information from DEMs in ArcMap
  • Sample activities for extracting information from DEMs in ArcMap.
  • Point and profile queries as well as raster math.
OpenTopography Short Course Undergraduate
Measuring Earthquake-Generated Surface Offsets from High-Resolution Digital Topography
  • calculating surface slip offsets using LiDAR-derived DEMs.
David Haddad, Arizona State University Undergraduate - Graduate
Recognizing and mapping faults using lidar and field data SERC Undergraduate

Related Resources from SERC

Title & Link
How do I use GIS in Introductory Geoscience?
  • Methods to Use GIS at the introductory Level.
  • Bypassing perceived barriers to using GIS at the introductory level.
Investigating Earthquakes: GIS Mapping and Analysis
  • General tips on how to adapt a chapter of the Earth Exploration Toolbook to a college-level geoscience course.
  • Skills taught: access and download online data, format the data so it can be uploaded into GIS software, and preparing maps.
Teaching with Google Earth
  • A complete guide to Using Google Earth in the geoscience classroom.
  • Complements Google Earth data, custom data and the OpenLandform Catalog available on OpenTopography.