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GEO2227 : Physical Geography Field course: New Zealand (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Rachel Carr
  • Lecturer: Dr Tom Robinson, Dr Stuart Dunning
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


New Zealand is a highly dynamic landscape, responding strongly to climate change, and is tectonically active. This makes it an ideal location to study the response of mountain environments to global warming, including glacier shrinkage and destabilisation of hill slopes. Together, these changes represent substantial and growing hazards, which are affecting many other glaciated environments across the globe. Consequently, knowledge of the processes operating in New Zealand, where they are occurring at directly measurable scales, can help to mitigate against local-scale hazards, and contribute knowledge to global issues driven by climate warming, such as sea level rise and increasing numbers of fatal landslides in areas formerly occupied by ice.

The aims of the field course are as follows:
1.       To provide students with first-hand experience of glaciological and hillslope processes in a mountainous, unfamiliar and highly dynamic environment.
2.       To develop advanced fieldwork focused skills, including research design, data collection techniques and data interpretation, which can applied to other modules, particularly the dissertation (GEO3099).
3.       To facilitate students making the linkage between knowledge gained from the literature and classroom-based learning, with field based research. This includes the limitations and challenges faced when translating theoretical ideas into practical fieldwork.
4.       To give students the opportunity to build on the skills and knowledge gained from the GEO2137 (Key Methods in Physical Geography), through targeted primary data collection and landscape-scale interpretation.
5.       To enhance teamwork and interpersonal skills, through working together in a challenging environment.

The module will consists of an eleven day field visit to Mount Cook, New Zealand. This location was selected because it contains all of the key elements of a mountainous, glaciated landscape within a small and logistically practical area that the staff are familiar working in. Consequently, the students will be able to learn relevant techniques and to observe the main processes in an unfamiliar landscape, without onerous logistics. This will maximise the amount of time students can be active in the field, as opposed to lengthy periods of transportation to the field site. Glaciological and hillslope process operate very rapidly in the region, meaning that they are observable and measurable at the field trip timescales. Furthermore, there are no language barriers and the political situation is stable, which is not true of other glaciated landscapes that are this measurably active (e.g. the Himalaya). Access to medical care and emergency evacuation facilities are excellent in New Zealand, making it as safe and controlled as possible, whilst still operating in a mountainous landscape.

Four preparatory lectures will provide relevant background information for the students: the first will provide a general introduction to New Zealand and the Mount Cook region and outline the field trip structure; the second will cover key glaciological ideas that are directly relevant to the area; the third will introduce the main hillslope processes operating in deglaciating areas, and Mount Cook specifically; and the fourth will act as a pre-trip briefing session. During the trip, the first day will involve transfer from Christchurch to Mount Cook and orientation. This will be followed by six staff-lead field days (3 focusing on glaciology, three on hillslope processes). The students will then spend three days conducting group work. The final day will be used to return to Christchurch. Data collected during the trip will be used to complete the individual project write ups and group presentations back in Newcastle.

Outline Of Syllabus

The syllabus involves four introductory lectures, followed by an eleven day field trip. The proposed structure is as follows:

Introductory lectures
Lecture 1: Introduction to Mount Cook and New Zealand. Outline of field course structure, location and logistics
Lecture 2: Glaciological processes in the South Alps, New Zealand
Lecture 3: Hillslopes & hazards
Lecture 4: Risks and Hazards
Lecture 5: Pre field trip briefing. Recap of logistics and trip requirements

Field course
Day 1: Transit from Christchurch to Mount Cook. Orientation to introduce students to the overall landscape and key features
Days 2-7: Staff-led field days, focusing on specific aspects of glaciological and hillslope processes. Staff will introduce and develop key concepts and illustrate different elements of the landscape. Training will be provided in relevant data collection techniques. Students to process data and/or write up results in evening. During this time, students will develop their ideas for the group work days and plan their data collection. Assistance on project design will be available from staff.
Days 8 -10: Students will work in groups of 4-5 to collect relevant data for their individual, student-led projects and group presentations
Day 11: Return to Christchurch

Drop-in sessions
Two x 2-hour drop in sessions for the field report

Teaching Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture51:005:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork118:0088:0011 day field course
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery22:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1103:00103:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures will introduce key concepts, processed-based knowledge and site-specific understanding of the field area that will allow the students to fully engage with the environment they will observe and study during the field course.

Staff-led field days develop the ideas introduced in lectures and demonstrate their application to a real-world example. They provide practical training on relevant field techniques and equipment.

Student-led project days allow students to apply their conceptual and practical knowledge, in order to design their data collection, to formulate their research ideas and to obtain the data they require for their projects and presentations. This will also allow them to integrate their understanding based on the literature and theory with the data they collect.

Assessment Methods

Please note that module leaders are reviewing the module teaching and assessment methods for Semester 2 modules, in light of the Covid-19 restrictions. There may also be a few further changes to Semester 1 modules. Final information will be available by the end of August 2020 in for Semester 1 modules and the end of October 2020 for Semester 2 modules.

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Oral Presentation202M20Group presentation
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Report2M80Individual field report (3,000 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

A field report is used as it assesses the main skills and knowledge outcomes we wish the students to achieve from the course, specifically it allows them to:

1.       Demonstrate their research design for the field data collection.
2.       Show that they have selected and understood appropriate methodologies.
3.       Synthesise and interpret their field results, in relation to the published literature.
4.       Critically evaluate their field approaches and the literature.
5.       Demonstrate understanding of the main processes operating in a mountainous environment, and the linkages between global drivers and their local expression in the landscape.
6.       Show their capacity to write concisely, effectively and scientifically and to use appropriate graphics (e.g. graphs and maps) to support their argument.

Group presentations allow the students to present initial results and to reflect on the development and execution of small-scale research projects. This will enable them to develop their thinking in advance of the field reports and to critically evaluate their work and approach, which will be beneficial for future projects, particularly the dissertation. It will improve their capacity to present information orally and visually and to work effectively as part of a team. The presentations will be carried put in Newcastle. This is to ensure that the students have the maximum amount of time in the field and time in the evenings to process and collate their field data. Furthermore, this will allow the students time to reflect on the field trip and to prepare their visual materials prior to the presentation.

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