Introduction—Mapping Watersheds & Estuaries

Summary: In these activities, students use remote sensing imagery to explore and classify natural and human derived land uses in watershed ecosystems. The activity from Estuaries 101 focuses on the San Francisco Bay Estuarine Research Reserve, and students trace the extent of its watershed using Google Earth. In the TIDES activity, students use GIS and orthographic photos of Charleston, Oregon to explore connections and land use. In both activities, students investigate human impacts on watershed and estuaries. Extend these mapping and monitoring techniques for use on a local watershed and estuary.

Concepts to teach: Cycles, Productivity, Balance

Goals: Students will be able to:

  • Effectively use and interpret remote sensing images.
  • Explain how agricultural ares, industrial sites, landfills and sewage treatment plants affect water quality in a watershed.
  • Explain how an estuary can act as a filtration system for runoff in a watershed.


Specific Objectives:

  1. Identify the processes in the watershed that affect conditions in the estuary and explain some specific examples
  2. Describe and demonstrate several ways of visualizing and mapping large ecosystems.
  3. Apply understanding of changes in the watershed and the resulting effects on the estuary to explain real-life situations regarding land use and weather in watersheds
  4. Understand how water quality factors are affected by natural and man-made sources of pollution and contamination.

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Apply mapping techniques to a local watershed and estuary.
  • See the Check for Understanding section of Estuary Education lesson plan.