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The objective of the environmental science component of the James Madison University field course in Ireland is to provide students with opportunities to conduct original hypothesis-driven research. We use an exercise in fluvial geomorphology as a case example of the way students used field observations and basic principles demonstrated by faculty mentors to develop and test hypotheses about the formation and function of rivers. Specifically, students addressed two fundamental, and currently unresolved, questions: (1) Can the location of large gravel bars be predicted? (2) What controls channel width? Students also gained insight into foundational concepts in fluvial geomorphology by investigating the distribution of deposited sediments, and deciphering how past environmental conditions provide first-order controls on the morphology of a modern-day river channel. In addition to identifying important geo-morphic patterns, students gained useful skills in developing and testing scientific questions in a rigorous and data-rich manner.

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