Module Catalogue 2019/20

GEO3128 : Polar Environments

  • Offered for Year: 2019/20
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Neil Ross
  • Lecturer: Dr Rachel Carr, Dr Nick Cutler
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Code Title
GEO2226Glacial Environments
GEO2137Key Methods for Physical Geographers
Pre Requisite Comment

Students must take either GEO2226 Glacial Environments OR GEO2137 Key Methods in Physical Geography

Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



Polar environments are anticipated to undergo dramatic physical changes in the next century in response to global climate forcing. These changes are expected to have significant global environmental impacts.

This module will provide a state-of-the-art overview of our polar environments. The module aims are as follows:
• Examine the physical processes responsible for present-day change in polar environments;
• Outline the past record of polar environmental change and how it can help inform understanding of present-day polar environments;
• Evaluate the possible impact of warmer future polar environments;

•       Teach quantitative methods in analysing and integrating environmental data used to investigate and understand polar environments
•       Provide training in data integration, data interpretation, and report writing.

Students will be introduced to the fundamental processes which drive the environment and cryosphere of polar environments. Topical, high impact issues(e.g. ice sheet dynamics, melting sea ice, thawing permafrost, methane release etc, .) will be used to outline the mechanisms behind present-day environmental change, to assess the likely future behaviour of such systems, and investigate the impacts of these changes on the Earth System. The impact of changing Polar Environments, on both ecosystems and human activities will be outlined.

In this module, a strong emphasis will be placed on the hands-on use and analysis of recent data acquired from polar environments. This will provide students with critical transferable quantitative (e.g. GIS) skills and the ability to access, process and interpret the measurements that underpin our current understanding of polar environments.

Outline Of Syllabus

The Syllabus will consist of an introduction to the environments of the Poles, past, present and future. Topics that will be covered during lectures will include:

1.       Polar environments and landscapes
2.       The atmosphere and climate of the poles
3.       The Arctic and Southern Oceans
4.       The Poles through Geological time
5.       The Poles as a recorder of past climate (Ice cores, lake sediments, ocean sediments, terrestrial sediments).
6.       Remotely sensing the poles: an introduction to polar satellite remote sensing.
7.       Polar glaciology 1: The Greenland Ice sheet
8.       Polar glaciology 2: Arctic glaciers and ice caps
9.       Polar glaciology 3: The West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula
10.       Polar glaciology 4: The East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the Dry Valleys and subglacial aquatic environments
11.       Polar glaciology 5: Past ice sheet dynamics
12.       Our changing poles 1: Sea ice
13.       Our changing poles 2: Permafrost and sub-sea permafrost
14.       Our changing poles 3: Arctic snow and hydrology
15.       Our changing poles 4: Life and vegetation in the freezer
16.       Our changing poles 5: Feedbacks into the Earth System
17.       Our changing poles 6: The impact of the poles on global sea level
18.       Treaties vs. Exploitation and opportunities: The Antarctic treaty, oil, gas, fishing, shipping routes etc.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

1. access, interrogate and utilise open-access environmental datasets;
2. use GIS and other quantitative techniques to process, analyse and display environmental data;
3. design, produce and write practical class reports, incorporating GIS output;

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of the module students will be able to:

1.       access, interrogate and utilise open-access environmental datasets
2.       use GIS to process, analyse and display environmental data
3.       design, produce and write reports, incorporating GIS output

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture281:0028:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical42:008:00GIS classes
Guided Independent StudyProject work341:0034:00Practical work outside of scheduled practical classes
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1130:00130:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will provide an introduction to the present state of the Polar Environments, how they may change in the future, and what impact this may have on the global system.

Practicals will be used to introduce students to the array of methods and data used to measure and observe present-day polar environments. Students will be trained to process and analyse these datasets to understand the physical processes that determine the way our polar environments function and interact with the wider world. The majority of practicals will have a strong geographical information system (GIS) component.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination902M50Take home exam: 4 days to complete 2 questions from 6 (2000 words).
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M251000 word report to assess 1st practical class
Practical/lab report2M251000 word report to assess 2nd practical class
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Written examination – for students to present their understanding of polar environmental issues, and to demonstrate their ability to critically evaluate complex arguments

Practical exercises – to demonstrate student’s ability to use GIS tools, to evaluate, analyse and synthesise data (both remotely sensed and secondary field data.


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.