Module Catalogue 2022/23

GEO2137 : Key Methods for Physical Geographers

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Mrs Helene Gadsden
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Seb Pitman
  • Lecturer: Professor Darrel Maddy, Professor Andrew Russell, Dr Maarten van Hardenbroek van Ammerstol, Dr Rachel Carr, Dr Nick Cutler
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Code Title
GEO1020Introduction to Physical Geography
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Code Title
GEO2127Doing Physical Geography Research: Theory and Practice
Co Requisite Comment



The Key Methods for Physical Geographers modules core aims are to:

1.       Introduce students to the diverse range of research methods and the resultant data used within the discipline of physical geography.
2.       Explore both conceptual and practical issues in research methodology and the use of research techniques.
3.       Draw connections between learning about tools and techniques for research on this module, and the production of research findings as explored through the range of physical geography modules offered across the Geography curriculum.
4.       Make explicit connection between research methods in physical geography and the development of graduate-level transferable skills.
5.       Give students the confidence and skills to proceed with original data collection and analysis for dissertations at Stage 3.
6.       Give students the confidence and skills to integrate primary data with secondary data for dissertations at Stage 3.

Outline Of Syllabus

In each semester, the module will be delivered by means of lectures and practical sessions which will include ‘mini-lectures’ throughout to provide context and instruction, without undue overlap with the specialism focused stage 2 module contents. Practicals will vary between fieldtrip, laboratory, computer, or desk based activities.

•       Introduction to GEO2137
•       Introduction to GIS and remote sensing
•       Mapping 3D and spatial analysis in GIS software packages
•       Introduction to Matlab and its scripting language
•       Data manipulation and plotting in Matlab
•       Sampling strategy, variability and experimental design

•       Introduction to graphical and statistical methods in physical geography
•       Introduction to using R Studio
•       Statistical analysis including analysing multivariate data
•       Advance graphics in R
•       Fieldtrip to Northumberland coast
•       Lab session

The computer practicals will introduce the student to important concepts, cartographic and analytical skills whilst also providing the student experience using a range of sophisticated software packages e.g. QGIS, ArcGIS, Matlab and R Studio.
The field trip is designed to introduce students to the diverse range of research methods used across physical geography. This fieldtrip will be based on the Northumberland coastline, which offers a range of environments (inter alia coast, rivers, wetlands, mountains). The sites and material collected during the fieldtrip will feed directly into the laboratory work where this material will be sampled and analysed using a range of techniques listed below. If the fieldtrip and laboratory work cannot be run in person than a virtual alternative will be used. The underlying principle is that these virtual teaching environments offer students a similar learning experience and opportunity to understand the methods of primary field data collection for analysis with available secondary datasets which they will be exposed to during the virtual sessions.
The theme across both semesters is ‘Characterizing the Earth’s surface’. Four distinct aspects will be emphasized:
Measuring the past
Monitoring the present
Predicting the future
Visualizing landscapes

Through virtual field and practical sessions, students will be introduced to a number of the following methods:
Biological proxies
Quantitative data analyses
Geomorphological mapping
Basic physical and numerical modelling
GIS and remote sensing
A suite of geophysical techniques (remote sensing, simple surveying, GPS)
Sedimentological techniques (field and laboratory methods)
Cartographic skills and producing quality maps/figures/tables

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the end of this module students will have the knowledge and a firm grasp of the main methodological strategies used in the analysis and interpretation of physical geographical information, and show a critical understanding of the appropriate contexts for a range of methodologies including: field, laboratory and process-modelling skills.

1. Physical geography is intrinsically a field and/or laboratory based subject using a diverse range of methods. From this module you will be more familiar with, and have practised, a range of methods and techniques of research, and have developed a clear insight into the challenges and opportunities of physical geography research. In 2020-21, due to COVID19 restrictions, the field and laboratory-based teaching will be delivered virtually.
2. You will have gained practice in interpreting and analysing information through the deployment of skills specific to the physical geographer, including the use of appropriate information and communication technologies.
3. You will have been introduced to the principles of research design, methods of analysing and presenting primary and secondary numeric and geospatial data, including retrieval and manipulation of large data sets, inferential and relational statistics, and geospatial technologies such as digital cartography, GIS and remote sensing.
4. You will better understand the dynamics and rates of change at different temporal and spatial scales
5. You will have gained experience in evaluating the processes shaping the landscapes of the past, present and future, as an appreciation of temporal change is central to an understanding of the physical world, its development, interaction, feedbacks and interdependences.
6. You will be aware of the significance of spatial scale on physical processes and their interactions and better comprehend how such processes operate across local, regional and global scales.
7. You will be better aware of how the scale of study (both spatial and temporal) can impact upon the conclusions that may be drawn from any particular study.

Intended Skill Outcomes

The 2014 QAA Benchmark statements for Geography specify that, to attain ‘excellence’ in subject-specific skills in physical geography, students should be able to:

1. Critically appraise and reflect on use of the diversity of techniques and approaches involved in collecting physical geographical information.

2. Critically appraise and reflect on the application of quantitative and qualitative approaches for analysis of geographical data, including excellent and sophisticated application of a range of these approaches.

3. Demonstrate a mastery of techniques and approaches involved in analysing geographical information (for example techniques for the analysis of spatial information, GIS, laboratory techniques, qualitative and quantitative techniques) and very good judgement of their effectiveness.

4. Critically evaluate and reflect on the appropriate application of the diversity of specialised physical geographical techniques and approaches.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture51:005:00PiP lecture material
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture10:300:30PiP lecture material
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1148:00148:00Portfolio completion
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical82:0016:00In person computer practical
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical11:001:00In person computer practical
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical12:002:00In person laboratory practicals (if possible)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical21:002:00In person laboratory practicals (if possible)
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities110:3010:30Asynchronous self-guided learning
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork18:008:00In person fieldtrip (if possible)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00In person drop-in/surgery session for computer practicals
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time11:001:00Online synchronous lecture
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time21:002:00Synchronous online drop-in session for computer practicals
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

1. An introductory lecture and mini-lectures will introduce students to the diverse range of research methods used across physical geography.
2. A focus on practical experience of methods and techniques rather than lecture-based content is required to build transferable skills and usage of methodologies. The asynchronous guided learning sessions will combine short videos/mini pre-recorded lectures and detailed instruction for each practical component. Sub-discipline specialist applications of the methods and their context are delivered via other Stage 2 modules.
3. Practical classes (online and in-person), fieldtrip and self-led sessions will explore tools and techniques for physical geography research.
4. Synchronous online and in-person (when possible) surgery sessions will be used for real-time demonstrations and to answer students questions related to each component of the module.
5. Production of research findings in assessed portfolios will enable explicit connection between key methods in physical geography and the development of Stage 3 research questions towards dissertations in particular. The teaching methods will give students the confidence to proceed with primary and secondary data collection and analysis for dissertations at Stage 3.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio1M301200 word equivalent practical/lab portfolio report. Word count reflects non-textual materials also being assessed (figures/tables).
Portfolio1M20800 word equivalent practical/lab portfolio report. Word count reflects non-textual materials also being assessed (figures/tables).
Portfolio2M10400 word equivalent practical/lab portfolio report. Word count reflects non-textual materials also being assessed (figures/tables).
Portfolio2M20800 word equivalent practical/lab portfolio report. Word count reflects non-textual materials also being assessed (figures/tables).
Portfolio2M20800 word equivalent practical/lab portfolio report. Word count reflects non-textual materials also being assessed (figures/tables).
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The practical sessions will be assessed in each Semester through 5 individual submissions worth 10%, 20% or 30% depending on the complexity of each portfolio. This will allow:

Evaluation of student engagement within the full spectrum of practical classes as well as an appraisal of the students’ engagement with the virtual practical components of the course.

Evaluation of students’ ability to make, synthesize and interpret independent observations and measurements.

Evaluation of student’s ability to integrate, synthesize and interpret justified combinations of primary and secondary data


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2022/23 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2023/24 entry will be published here in early-April 2023. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.