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GEO3128 : Polar Environments

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Rachel Carr
  • Co-Module Leader: Dr Neil Ross
  • Lecturer: 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


Polar environments are undergoing dramatic physical, environmental and biological changes in response to global climate forcing. These changes are expected to have significant global environmental impacts.

This module aims to provide a state-of-the-art overview of polar environments and how they are changing. 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 methods for assessing, analysing and integrating environmental data to investigate and understand polar environments
•       Provide training in data assessment, description, integration, 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 likely be used to outline the mechanisms behind current 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 likely be outlined.

In this module, it is intended that a strong emphasis will be placed on the hands-on use and analysis of data from polar environments. The aim is to will provide students with critical transferable geographical skills (e.g. geo-visualisation, handling of large and complex geo-data, data assessment, description and interpretation) and the ability to analyse and interpret the observations that underpin our current understanding of polar environments.

Outline Of Syllabus

The Syllabus aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to the environments of the Poles, past, present and future. Topics covered during lectures may include any of the following:

1.       Polar environments (terrestrial and marine), climate and landscapes
2.       The Poles through Geological time
3.       The Poles as recorders of past climate (e.g. Ice cores, lake sediments, ocean sediments, terrestrial sediments).
4.       The Greenland Ice sheet
5       Arctic glaciers and ice caps
6.       The West Antarctic Ice Sheet
7.       The East Antarctic Ice Sheet
8.       Subglacial lakes
9.       Past ice sheet dynamics
10.       Sea ice
11.       Permafrost
12.       Carbon cycling and polar amplification
13.       Arctic wildfires
14.       Polar habitats
15.       Arctic peatlands
16.       How the Polar Regions interact with the Earth System (e.g. the impact of polar change on global sea level).
18.       Treaties & environmental protection vs. resources & economic opportunities: The Antarctic treaty, oil, gas, fishing, shipping routes etc.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion1105:00105:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture31:003:00Live online lecture
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture221:0022:00PiP lectures.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical22:004:00PiP practical
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities21:002:00Student activities (reading and exploring the study area) related to the ‘Polar case study’ activity
Guided Independent StudyProject work160:0060:00Practical work outside of scheduled practical classes
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops12:002:00PiP workshops introducing the ‘Polar case study’ activities, geographical area/s
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesScheduled on-line contact time21:002:00PiP Q&A sessions to support the two assessments.
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.

Practical sessions will be used to introduce students to the methods and data used to measure and observe present- day polar environments. Students will be trained to analyse and describe these datasets to understand the physical processes that determine the way our polar environments function and interact with the wider world.

Workshops will introduce the ‘Polar case study’ assessment and the geographical area/s and geographical or scientific topics that will be explored and investigated.

Q&A drop-in sessions will be used to support the second (Polar case study) assessment.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Practical/lab report2M401 x 1600-word practical/lab report to assess practical class
Report1M602400-word case study report
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Case study1MStudents submit a plan (
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Case study – for students to present their understanding of a specific polar environmental topic, and to demonstrate their ability to critically evaluate complex arguments. A case study plan will be submitted earlier in semester 1 for formative feedback to ensure that students are on the right track before they develop their full project.

Practical report – to demonstrate student’s ability to describe, evaluate, analyse and synthesise data (both remotely sensed and secondary field data) in a scientific report.

Reading Lists