Study Abroad and Exchanges



GEO2226 : Glacial Environments

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The world’s glaciers and ice sheets are expected to change dramatically during the coming century, in response to global climate change. Their future behaviour is crucial for predicting sea level rise and changes in water resources, as well as acting as a barometer for further climatic warming.

This module will provide a comprehensive introduction to the key features and processes associated with glaciers and glaciated landscapes. The aims are to:
•       Outline the processes that govern glacier flow and form;
•       Explore the characteristics of the world’s major ice masses and evaluate the factors determining their response to climate change;
•       Understand how glaciated landscapes are created and to use this record to interpret the behaviour of past glaciers and its relationship with climatic conditions.
•       Evaluate different approaches to managing the cryopshere;
•       Provide practical experience of geographic information systems (GIS) and their application to glaciology.
•       Develop capacity to present ideas in written and oral form, to debate important issues and to synthesize information from the published literature and practical exercises.

Students will be introduced to the mechanisms by which glaciers flow and the fundamental processes governing their behaviour. The course will then highlight the contemporary issues and state-of-the-art knowledge in the major glaciated regions, specifically Greenland, Antarctica, the Arctic ice caps, the Himalaya, the European Alps, New Zealand and Alaska. There will be a particular focus on contemporary response of these ice masses to climate change. Finally, the course will outline the ways in which glaciers shape the landscape and how this can be used to reconstruct past glacier behaviour, which is highly relevant for contextualising contemporary ice loss.

The module will provide the students with skills in geographic information systems (GIS) and enable them to work with the remotely sensed datasets that are used in contemporary glaciological research. It will also develop transferable skills, particularly communication and interpersonal skills. The career pathways seminar will develop occupational awareness, by illustrating different career pathways for those working in glaciated regions and will afford the students the opportunity for one-to-one discussion of potential carer routes within this field.

Outline Of Syllabus

The syllabus will introduce key processes in glaciology, the contemporary cryosphere, glaciated landscapes and management of glacial environments. Proposed lectures are as follows:

Section 1: Glacial processes & principles
1.       Introduction to the cyrosphere
2.       Glacier mass balance & thermal regime
3.       Processes of glacier flow
4.       Patterns of glacier flow
5.       Glacial hydrology
6.       Surging glaciers

Section 2: The contemporary cryosphere & climate change
7.       Mountain glaciers and climate 1
8.       Mountain glaciers and climate 2
9.       Arctic ice caps
10.       The Greenland Ice Sheet
11.       The Antarctic Ice Sheet
12.       Glacial hazards
13.       Permafrost & periglacial environments
14.       Extra-terrestrial ice

Section 3: Glaciated landscapes & past glaciers
15.       Processes & landforms of erosion
16.       Processes & landforms of deposition
17.       Paleoglaciology 1: Reconstructing past glaciers
18.       Paleoglaciology 2: Ice mass growth/decay and climate forcing
19.       Ice cores

Section 4: Managing the cryopshere
20.       Approaches to managing the cryosphere

Practical sessions: four GIS, computer-based practical sessions, related to the lecture content.
Seminar: Debate on approaches to managing glaciated regions.
Career pathways seminar: Seminar with external speakers who work in glaciated regions, in a range of different roles. Students will then have to opportunity for informal Q &A with speakers.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture201:0020:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical43:0012:00Series of GIS computing practicals
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops125:0025:00Group/ practical work outside scheduled classes
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops15:005:00Group presentation at mini conference
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops13:003:00Seminar with visiting speakers
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00Debate on management approaches
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1133:00133:00N/A
Jointly Taught With
Code Title
GEO3138Glacial Environments
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will provide the fundamental knowledge and understanding framework required for the course. They will cover four main topic areas: 1) glacial processes; 2) the contemporary cryosphere and climate change; 3) glaciated landscapes and paleoglaciology and; 4) managing glacial areas.

Practical sessions will introduce students to important datasets and techniques used in contemporary glaciological research. The students will be trained how to access and process these datasets using GIS. They will then learn to apply their results to understand glacier behaviour, response to climate forcing and to reconstruct the behaviour of past ice masses.

The debate seminar will allow students to discuss the most appropriate ways of managing glacial environments. This will enable them to explore approaches presented in the associated lecture in more depth and to gain skills in debating and articulating important contemporary issues.

The career pathways seminar will provide the students with direct access to those working in glaciated environments within different fields (e.g. glacial science, environmental management). This will give them insight into possible career trajectories and real-world experiences of working in glacial regions. Students will be able to ask questions in a Q and A session, which will create a more informal setting and allow more specific interests to be discussed.

The students will present work as a group in a mini-conference, which will enable them to explore a contemporary glaciological issue of their choice (e.g. response of the Greenland Ice Sheet to climate change, the role of debris cover in glacial melt). This will develop skills relating to group work, oral presentation and designing visual materials. Furthermore, they will need to evaluate, summarise and present concepts from the contemporary scientific literature, which are often complex.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination902A50Unseen exam, 2 questions from 6
Oral Presentation202M20Group presentation to peers and staff
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M30Individual report on one of four practical sessions (1500 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Written examination: for students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts covered during the course, to formulate a coherent argument and to critically evaluate and synthesise material.

Mini-conference presentation: to develop oral and visual presentation skills, to show understanding of material by explaining it to peers and staff and to build teamwork skills via group work.

Practical report: to demonstrate the student’s ability to use datasets and GIS techniques and to analyse, evaluate and synthesise this information in relation to the scientific literature and material presented during the course.

Reading Lists