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GEO2226 : Glacial Environments

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Rachel Carr
  • Lecturer: Dr Stuart Dunning
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


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.

Outline Of Syllabus

The syllabus will introduce key processes in glaciology, the contemporary cryosphere, glaciated landscapes and management of glacial environments via a series of lectures, supported by structured guided learning. This content will have four sections:
Section 1: Glacial processes & principles
Section 2: The contemporary cryosphere & climate change
Section 3: Glaciated landscapes & past glaciers
Section 4: Approaches to managing the Cryosphere

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture171:0017:00PiP lectures (can be delivered online if required due to restrictions)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical42:008:00Asynchronous online. Students work through practical handouts and video instructions independently.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical42:008:00PiP. Drop-ins for practical sessions, 2 x 1 hour for each practical.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching12:002:00PiP seminars (can be delivered online if required due to restrictions)
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1165:00165:00N/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. These will be supported by structured guided learning activities related to each lecture. The exact format will depend on the lecture, but examples include: 1) asking students to write a short formative summary, based on a structured reading list; an online quiz to check understanding; analysis of a dataset used in the lecture; virtual field courses, using pre-developed external materials.

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. Students will use detailed hand-out sheets and videos to work independently through the practicals, which will be supported by present in person drop-in sessions and discussion boards.

The 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.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M75Individual report on one of four practical sessions (3000 words)
Oral Examination2M25Oral Presentation 1. Group presentation to peers and staff.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

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

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