Background Info

FieldScope is a web-based platform for citizen science projects involving geographic data. It is also a great tool for exploring the geography of a place, including diverse ecosystems, changing elevations, and watersheds. Use the link above to launch the Rocky Mountain National Park FieldScope project. Be sure to go through the tutorial when the map loads to get familiar with the tools you will work with in the FieldScope project.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest parks in the United States. The landscape in the park has been carved by glaciers over time. Today in the park you can find cirque glaciers at the highest elevations. At times in the past the glaciers have been much larger. Currently they are melting and shrinking due to increasingly warm summer temperatures. The streams that run throughout the park start at the highest elevations, where the land is covered with snow and ice for much of the year.

The continental divide runs through Rocky Mountain National Park. This means that all water falling to the west of the divide drains one way, and water falling to the east drains another way. One side of Rocky Mountain National Park drains into the Colorado River and eventually the Gulf of California in Mexico (although much of the water from the Colorado River is diverted to reservoirs where it is used as water supply for municipal and industrial use). The other side drains to the Missouri River, which joins with the Mississippi River and eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico.


Ideas for Exploring Water in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Using the Search tool in FieldScope, find Lake Estes, Colorado, a town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Turn on the Water Features and Elevation layers. Use the Query tool and click on Lake Estes. The name and elevation of the lake (in meters) will appear in a box. Find the stream called Fall River that enters the lake from the west. Click on the stream to make sure you have found it. Trace this stream up into the park as far as you can. Then check how the elevation has changed.


  • Identify the continental divide that runs through the park. Then find a stream on the west side of it that starts near the continental divide and trace it down to a lower elevation, at the edge of the Elevation map layer. Describe the network of lakes, rivers, and streams in the park. What does it remind you of? Write a short paragraph to summarize. Consider using words like tributary and watershed.


  • Turn on the Vegetation layer and find as many examples of glaciers as possible. Drag and drop markers from the Markers tab onto the map to identify these. Record the elevation of the glaciers you identify. Also notice what other vegetation types border glaciers. What other relationships can you identify between the location of glaciers and other features on the map, or in the map layers? Summarize these relationships in one or more short paragraphs.


For Further Exploration


Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry



half-open, amphitheater-like hollow area near the head of a valley or mountainside resulting from glacial erosion.

continental divide


point or area that separates which directions a continent's river systems flow.

Encyclopedic Entry: continental divide



to direct away from a familiar path.



height above or below sea level.

Encyclopedic Entry: elevation



mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

Encyclopedic Entry: glacier



source of a river.



having to do with factories or mechanical production.



people relying on each other for goods, services, and ideas.



having to do with local government.



natural or man-made lake where water is stored.

Encyclopedic Entry: reservoir



large stream of flowing fresh water.

Encyclopedic Entry: river



body of flowing water.

Encyclopedic Entry: stream



stream that feeds, or flows, into a larger stream.

Encyclopedic Entry: tributary



all the plant life of a specific place.



entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.

Encyclopedic Entry: watershed



Anne Haywood, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, National Geographic Society

Educator Reviewer

Sarah Richings-Germain, Teacher, Olander School for Project Based Learning, Fort Collins, CO

Expert Reviewer

Joseph Kerski, Ph.D., Education Manager, ESRI

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