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NES3202 : Current Issues in Earth and Environmental Sciences

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Mark Ireland
  • Co-Module Leader: Professor Ian Head
  • Lecturer: Dr Martin Cooke, Dr Geoffrey Abbott, Dr Shannon Flynn
  • Other Staff: Mr Ryan Woodward, Miss Caroline Crow
  • Owning School: Natural and Environmental Sciences
  • 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 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for urgent action by all countries, in a global partnership, to tackle ending poverty and other deprivations, which must occur in tandem with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth. One of the biggest challenges faced is addressing these inequalities while at the simultaneously tackling global climate and environmental change.

It is now widely accepted that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge currently faced. Climate change has been driven by the increasing levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases primarily through the increasing use of fossil fuels. As well as the impact on the climate, the widespread reliance on Earth’s natural resources has led to an ever-increasing number of environmental issues, including, but not limited to, water contamination and ocean acidification.

This module, will explore through, critically evaluating evidence and case studies, some of the current issues in managing, and mitigating the often-competing demands for natural resources required to support the world’s growing population, and the environmental issues resulting from the exploitation of these resources.

This research-led module will critically examine the role that research in Earth and Environmental Sciences has in understanding and mitigating anthropogenic change relating these to the UNSDGs (e.g. SDGs 3, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15). This will be build and expand upon the knowledge and skills that students developed in stage 1 and 2. Instructors will select one or more key issues to explore and interrogate, based on current, societally-relevant research on sustainability, energy and/or environmental science. This module will explore the multidimensional and complex nature of current sustainability challenges, outlining key problems, evaluating potential solutions, and emphasise the challenges in responsible use of Earth resources and the impact on the environment. Potential topics include (but are not limited to):

•       Decarbonisation of the energy sector (SDGs 7 & 13) – e.g. geothermal energy, underground energy storage
•       Nature based solutions including greenhouse gas removal (SDG 13)- e.g. soil carbon capture, peatland
•       Removal of environmental contaminants (SDGs 3, 6, 7, 12, 14, 15) – e.g. wastewater treatment in circular
•       Novel applications of geomicrobiology in environmental problem-solving (SDGs 6, 7, 12, 13) – microbial
processes in wastewater, microbial processes in subsurface energy storage

Outline Of Syllabus

•       Explore the legacy of anthropogenic change due to past use of natural resources
•       Explore the social, cultural, economic and policy context for each sustainability challenge
•       Review the current state of knowledge for specific topics (listed above), including the underpinning
theory, key scientific principles and critical knowledge gaps
•       Examine how an improved understanding of specific topics supports addressing key sustainability
•       Outline the possible costs, benefits, synergies and trade-offs for current and future actions

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture141:0014:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion120:0020:00Presentation
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion130:0030:00Written report
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading93:0027:00N/A
Guided Independent StudySkills practice102:0020:00Data analysis and visualisation
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops102:0020:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningStructured non-synchronous discussion22:004:00Students will use discussion board to reflect on directed research and pre-submit questions as part of assessment preparation,
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity17:007:00Formative assessment
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study115:0055:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will:

1) Introduce the students to the format of the module and outline expectations, including assessment
2) Introduce aspects of the underpinning theory behind anthropogenic change
3) Introduce mitigations and technologies for anthropogenic change

Workshops will provide students the opportunity to examine and critically evaluate key concepts in depth and allow them the opportunity to develop expertise in critically evaluating scientific literature /research and interpreting and presenting scientific information.

Independent study will:
1) Provide students the opportunity to undertake skills practice, specifically in data analysis and
2) Provide students the opportunity to consolidate their learning by directed literature reading
3) Provide students time to prepare prior to workshops to become more independent and engaged in their learning

Student-led group activity, and assessment preparation and completion will allow students to fully prepare for their summative coursework and presentation. They will have the opportunity to consolidate and build upon knowledge gained in the taught sessions.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report2M70Students will individually write a review of a chosen technology or mitigation (from a defined list) for anthropogenic change. It will be prepared in the style of a policy brief (e.g. report for the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee). Word limit 3,000
Prof skill assessmnt1M30Students will prepare a 10 minute recorded presentation which provides a synopsis of an aspect of anthropogenic change related to unsustainable use of natural resources.
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Case study1MStudents will use Canvas, in groups, to produce a synopsis of technology or mitigation for anthropogenic change (max. 500 words).
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The coursework assessment is designed to evaluate the skills, knowledge and understanding. The work assesses their ability to evaluate the credibility and reliability of scientific information and data. These data form the basis for critically evaluating information, from multiple sources. The report provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their scientific understanding. The presentation aligns with the intended learning outcomes of students being able to explain potential solutions and mitigations for major anthropogenic change.

The single formative assessment provides an opportunity for students to get feedback on the summative report ahead of the final assessment.

Reading Lists