NAGT > Teaching Resources > Teaching in the Field > Field Trip Examples > Glacial Geomorphology of Western Ireland

Glacial Geomorphology of Western Ireland

Steven J. Whitmeyer and L. Scott Eaton, James Madison University, Dept. of Geology and Environmental Science

Intended Audience: Upper-division undergraduate geoscience students


County Mayo, Ireland

Glacial cirque in Connemara region of western Ireland

Daily Itinerary

Day 1

  • Kames below Tonalee
  • Deltas at Leenane
  • Eskers at Kylemore
  • Kames at Lough Inagh (if time)

Day 2

  • Houston's Bridge
  • Ben Creggan
  • Big Daddy Cirque

Day 3

  • Lough Nafooey (Final Project)

Suggestions for modification

The content of these exercises can easily be modified and/or shortened to fit an alternate audience, such as Earth Science teachers.


The glacial geomorphology exercise of the James Madison University Field Course in Ireland combines traditional methods in field mapping with new directions that analyze surface processes within the framework of Holocene climate change. The field sites consist of spectacular locales in a recently deglaciated alpine environment in western Ireland. The sites possess many classic glacial landforms, including large cirques, tarns, eskers, and numerous lateral and terminal moraines. The students work in pairs with seasoned instructors experienced in glacial geomorphology. The project has two primary goals. The first is to have students accurate map the positions and genesis of glacial landforms on topographic maps and aerial photographs. The second goal requires the students to interpret the local and regional geologic history of a field site based on plausible radiometric dates originating from buried organics and the exposure ages of quartz-rich, low-grade metamorphic rocks. Using their field data, students produce a hand drafted, accurate map depicting the types and locations of glacial landforms. In addition, students address the "big picture" by interpreting the regional glacial activity since the last glacial maximum, utilizing field data and existing glacial and climate literature for western Ireland and the North Atlantic region.


This field experience is a 3 day sequence which is part of a month-long field camp in Ireland. Students are assumed to have a geoscience background typical for 3rd and 4th year undergraduates. Background coursework usually includes Physical & Historical Geology, Mineralogy, Stratigraphy, Structural Geology and Geomorphology. However, we assume that all students are lacking in one or more areas of background knowledge and provide appropriate remedial instruction.


The goals of this exercise are:
  1. to expose students to a spectacular glacially-derived landscape (many of our students are from the southeastern US, where there are no glacially-derived landforms)
  2. to instruct students in the techniques of geomorphological and surficial mapping
Cross-section of an esker


The course is designed to instruct students through intensive, full-day immersion in a spectacular environment of classic glacially-derived landforms. Students learn by doing and produce tangible results and products that explain the local geology in the context of global climate change. Thus, the big picture relevance of their field work is continuously reinforced.

Notes and Tips:

Access to field sites is not a big problem in western Ireland. However, it is common courtesy to talk to landowners and (sheep) farmers prior to bringing a large group onto their property. Consultation with local geoscience professionals at the National University of Ireland, Galway is also advised.

Assessment and Evaluation:

Students are given an initial pre-test at the beginning of the field course to evaluate their geologic background and knowledge. Subsequent assessment is conducted at the end of each individual component of the course in order to assess how well students have assimilated new knowledge of the field geology and field techniques. Students are also queried for their impressions of the effectiveness and relevance of the exercise.

Materials and Handouts:

Glacial Geomorphology Exercise Road Log (Acrobat (PDF) 1.4MB Jan29 07)

Glacial Geomorphology Exercise Intro and Overview (Microsoft Word 29kB Jan24 07)

Example of Completed Field Map:

Students and professors discussing glacial landforms


Bowen, D.Q., Phillips, F.M., McCabe, A.M., Knutz, P.C., Sykes, G.A. 2002. New data for the last glacial maximum in Great Britain and Ireland. Quaternary Science Reviews, 21, 89-101.

Coxon, P. 2001. Cenozoic: Tertiary and Quaternary (until 10,000 years before present). In: Holland, C.H. (ed), The Geology of Ireland, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh, 387-428.

JMU Ireland Field Course website: