Module Catalogue 2019/20

GEO2226 : Glacial Environments

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Ian Stevens
  • Lecturer: Dr Stuart Dunning, Dr Rachel Carr, Dr Neil Ross
  • 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
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment

GEO2137 Key Methods in Physical Geography module is recommended, but not essential.


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

Semester 1 exam session (2 hours)

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

Section 4:
17. Extraterrestrial ice
18. Permafrost & periglacial environments
19. Approaches to managing the cryosphere

Semester 2 exam session (2 hours)

Practical sessions: four GIS, computer-based practical sessions, related to the lecture content.
Seminar: Debate on approaches to managing glaciated regions.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to do the following:
1.       Understand the processes that govern glacier form and flow.
2.       Identify the characteristics of the various components of the contemporary cryosphere and their response to climatic change.
3.       Interpret previously glaciated landscapes and use knowledge of past ice masses to contextualise changes observed in contemporary glaciers.
4.       Evaluate different approaches to managing glacial environments.

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of this module, the students will be able to:
1.       Locate and use open access datasets that are used in glacial research.
2.       Perform key GIS tasks to process, analyse and present data.
3.       Interpret past glacial landscapes using GIS and remotely sensed data.
4.       Design and write reports, which incorporate output from the GIS.
5.       Present work orally and visually in a conference-style presentation to peers and staff.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture22:004:00Exam drop in sessions: part lecture, part Q & A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture191:0019:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical43:0012:00Series of GIS computing practicals
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00Group presentation at mini conference
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00Debate on management approaches
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1161:00161:00N/A
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 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.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination601A25Unseen exam, 1 question from 3
Oral Presentation202M20Group presentation to peers and staff
Written Examination602A25Unseen exam, 1 question from 3
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 examinations: 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.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2019/20 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 2020/21 entry will be published here in early-April 2019. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.