Resource Type
Completion Time
About a week
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Jacquelyn Hams
Related Members
High speed computers to access websites and download images.
3-D glasses
Stereoscopes (optional, depending on grade level)
Images & Files (Download with lesson, see Resources section for others)
General Earth Science
Earth Science
Tools and Methods
Earth Formation and Evolution
Earth System, Structure, and Processes
Water Cycle, Weather, and Climate
Polar Science
Snow and Ice Science


Beacon Valley is recognized by scientists as one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth. This lesson plan was created so that students could have the opportunity to examine the same landforms that scientists use to study the processes that operate in both of these extreme environments. There are two parts to this lesson. Teachers may choose to use one part or the entire lesson depending on the grade level.


The goal of this lesson is two-fold: (1) to construct a topographic profile and identify the glacial landforms using the landscape of Beacon Valley, Antarctica; and (2) compare those landforms with similar landforms on Mars.

At the end of this lesson students will be able to:

  • Construct and interpret a topographic profile.

  • Identify glacial landforms in Beacon Valley

  • Compare and contrast glacial landforms in Beacon Valley with those on Mars.


Before assigning this lesson, the following content should be covered.

For students: Students should read science/geology textbooks for a discussion on polygon formation before completing this lesson. This discussion is typically found in chapters on glaciers and may be discussed under "patterned ground."

For students and teachers: Both students and teachers should read the following pages in Jackie Hams' journals on the PolarTREC website at:
* 30 November 2008 "A Tale of Two Planets"
* 22 November 2008 "Return to Mac Town"
* "Ask the Team" section of Jackie's expedition page - Post on polygons

For teachers: Teachers should lecture on polygon formation before assigning this lesson to students.

The lesson plan consists of Parts I and II. The content of Parts I and II is as follows:

I. Students will construct a topographic profile across Beacon Valley, Antarctica and label the glacial features on the profile.

II. Students will examine groups of photographs of glacial features taken in Beacon Valley and compare them with the images obtained of the same features on Mars and answer questions provided by the teacher.


Part I. Create a Topographic Map Profile
1. Two topographic maps have been provided for the students. Print out the Beacon Valley topographic map and the Beacon Valley topographic map with profile line (attached). The minimum paper size that should be used to print the maps is the legal size (81/2 x 14). 11 x 14 paper can be used if available.

  1. Print out copies of the BlankTopoProfile.pdf. The profile can be printed on 8 ½ x 11 paper in landscape view or on legal sized paper 8 ½ x 14.

  2. Label the topographic end points on your blank profile (A, A' and A''). The end points on the blank profile should match up with the end points on the map when you overlay the blank profile. Endpoint A has been added to the blank profile as a guide.

  3. Complete the topographic profile along the section line and label the following features:

  • Mullins Glacier
  • Bigfoot
  • Mullins Valley
  • Beacon Valley
  • Profile Bluff
  • Polygons in Beacon Valley (the valley floor is covered with polygons).

You can zoom in on Beacon Valley and read the names of the features using the magnifying glass under the "Tools" menu. You can also change views by using selecting "Orthoimagery" on the right to view the topographic maps. Selecting "Satellite Imagery" will provide an aerial photograph of Beacon Valley. You can use the transparency tool to overlay the topographic map on the aerial photograph.

Note: Teachers can contact me for a completed topographic profile to use as an answer key at hamsje [at]

Part II Photograph Interpretation Background reading: Textbook reading on polygons or patterned ground in the chapters on glaciers.

Websites: (Mars High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) - article on Formation of gullies on Mars

There are two groups of photographs below. Students should review the group photographs and answer the questions provided for each group. Note: Students can access the photographs via the HiRISE website by typing the photograph number in the Observation ID box under the search menu. Photos are also found in the PowerPoint available with this lesson.

Group 1 Photographs: Polygons
a. Photograph of polygons in Beacon Valley
b. Photograph of polygons on Mars (Photograph SP_007372_2475PolygonsMars).
c. Close-up photograph of polygons on Mars that includes a scale (PSP_007372_2475).

1. Describe the process of polygon formation in Beacon Valley.
2. What is the approximate diameter of the polygons in the Beacon Valley photograph?
3. Can you estimate the approximate diameter of the polygons in the Mars photo?

Group 2 Photographs: Holes, Holes, and more Holes
a. Photograph of Bigfoot in Beacon Valley
b. Photograph of beheaded glaciers on Mars. (PSP_001842_1395BigfootMars)
Teachers and students should read the article on "Formation of gullies on Mars at:
c. Photograph of scallops on Mars (PSP _002070_2250). Students will need the red and green 3-D glasses to see the scallops in 3-D. Option: Depending on the grade level, teachers may wish to print out stereo pairs instead of using 3-D glasses. Go to the HiRISE site and search for the observation ID (PSP _002070_2250) to obtain the original image. On the main page of the image, you will find a link on the right to print out stereo pairs.

1. Describe how "bigfoot" is formed in Beacon Valley.
2. Highlight/outline the beheaded glaciers in the Mars photograph.
3. How are beheaded glaciers on Mars formed?
4. How are the scalloped depressions on Mars formed?
5. What process is instrumental in the formation of these "holes" in Beacon Valley and Antarctica?


Extension Questions for further research
1. Since polygons on earth are cemented by ice, what does that tell you about polygons on Mars?
2. What is the significance of water related features on Mars?
3. What type of life forms would you expect to find on Mars?


PowerPoint with images (attached) Note: Students can access the Mars photographs directly and obtain detailed information on the images by going to the HiRISE site at Select the search feature at the top of the screen and type the PSP number in the observation ID box.

Other Resources: (Mars High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment)
Video on overview page of journal titled "Dr. Marchant explains the significance of sampling in Beacon Valley in this video".
Read the article "Formation of gullies on Mars: Link to recent climate history and insolation microenvironments implicate surface water flow origin", Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS)


See attached Rubric.


This lesson plan was created by Jacquelyn Hams, hamsje [at] Please credit photographs and images where appropriate.


5-8 9-12 Content Standard A: Science As Inquiry: Content Standard C: Life Science: Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science: Content Standard E: Science and Technology: Content Standard F: Science In Personal and Social Perspectives: Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science: a. Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry b. Understandings about scientific inquiry a. Structure and function in living systems a. Structure of the earth system b. Earth's history c. Earth in the solar system a. Abilities of technological design b. Understandings about science and technology e. Science and technology in society a. Science as a human endeavor b. Nature of science Content Standard A: Science As Inquiry: Content Standard F: Science In Personal and Social Perspectives: Content Standard E: Science and Technology: Content Standard G: History and Nature of Science: a. Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry b. Understandings about scientific inquiry a. Abilities of technological design b. Understandings about science and technology f. Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges a. Science as a human endeavor b. Nature of scientific knowledge

Standards Other

California State Standards: Grades 9-12 Earth Science Content Standards

Investigation and Experimentation
ESIE1. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three reporting clusters, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:

ESIE1. d. Formulate explanations by using logic and evidence.

ESIE1.h. Read and interpret topographic and geologic maps.

ESIE1. i. Analyze the locations, sequences, or intervals that are characteristic of natural phenomena (e.g. relative ages of rocks, locations of planets over time, and succession of species in an ecosystem).

Earth’s Place in the Universe
ES1. Astronomy and planetary exploration reveal the structure, scale, and change of the solar system over time.

Structure and Composition of the Atmosphere
ES8. Life has changed Earth’s atmosphere, and changes in the atmosphere affect conditions for life.

Attachment Size
Download Lesson (PDF - 7.6 MB)7.58 MB 7.58 MB
Images (PPT - 5.2 MB)5.21 MB 5.21 MB