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Geomorphology and geophysical hazards

  • Module code: GG5190
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: 5
  • Credits: 30
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Co-requisites: None


This module presents a series of thematic taught sessions overviewing major geomorphological processes and landforms, sedimentary environments and geophysical hazards. The module builds upon foundations of GG4080 Introducing Physical Geography and Environmental Hazards. On completion of the module students will gain a detailed understanding of the major surface processes and their geomorphological significance and will be able to interpret a range of sedimentary environments. Module themes will reflect on likely hazards linked to geomorphological processes, including floods, coastal change (including impacts of sea-level change on coastal environments), slope stability, geological controls on geomorphology such as fault movement and associated and sediments (and sedimentary structures) created by events such as tsunamis and ash falls.

The module emphasises the mastery of geomorphological skills through experiential learning closely associated to core lecture delivery. The practical programme will aid students in evaluating key geomorphological concepts, learning and testing analytical techniques. Fieldwork programme provides an arena for applying new skills and knowledge gained and provides a learning bridge to students wishing to pursue physical geographical and/or hazards based research projects at Level 6.


  • To study landforms and the processes that shape them.
  • To decode sedimentary records in order to understand the processes that impact on surface environments over a range of temporal and spatial scales.
  • To develop a critical understanding of the relationship between geomorphological processes and geophysical hazards.
  • To develop practical, hands-on experience of geomorphological analytical techniques to geophysical challenges.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

  • Explain and discuss major surface processes in a range of environments and recognise the major controls on physical landscape evolution.
  • Describe and apply techniques available for the study of landforms and geomorphological and sedimentological processes.
  • Relate geomorphological processes to geophysical hazards.
  • Apply geomorphological analytical techniques to a range of data sources to answer contemporary research questions.

Curriculum content

  • Physical landscape change and antecedents including challenging norms of uniformity, singularity and sensitivity, hazard-risk-uncertainty-probability.
  • Geomorphological techniques: measurement of form, scale and resolution of observation relative to change, making sense of the past, sediments and their environments, mapping and representation.
  • Thematic study of geomorphological and sedimentary environments: introducing geological control, fluvial, coastal, desert, glacial/periglacial systems, slopes and mass movement.
  • Systematically relating physical landscapes to associated geophysical hazards, including: floods, landscape instability (eg. coastal, riverine, glacial and periglacial), sea-level change, fault movement and earthquakes, tsunami deposits and ash fall deposits.

Teaching and learning strategy

This module is delivered through lectures, practical laboratory sessions, seminars, and student field-based learning and project work. Lectures are designed to introduce students to the key features of each topic and to lay the preparatory ground for the application of knowledge. The fieldwork preparation sessions and field-based work provide students with an environment to develop and refine core practical skills and to develop their understanding through the application of knowledge to specific case studies. The module will develop a range of employability skills, both discipline-based by identifying applications of geomorphological knowledge in the environmental workplace and though transferable skills developed in the assessment. Specific examples include, teamwork in undertaking fieldwork-based research, learning a series of practical skills and their transferability to the workplace (e.g. the operation of specific fieldwork equipment), and digital literacies in the analysis and evaluation of geophysical data and the estimation of hazard risks and vulnerability to these hazards.

Canvas VLE will be used to support all aspects of learning and teaching, providing a platform for articulating the module syllabus, assessment and feedback, archiving module-related resources (e.g. specific reading materials) and a digital discussion platform.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive UNISTATS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching Lecture Practical Seminar Fieldwork 36 9 4 20
Guided independent study 231
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

Summative assessments consist of:

(A) Field-based project report focusing on landform development (50%, 2500 plus associated graphics). Students will learn to observe, record, and interpret landscape, forms and processes at a variety of scales. This work will include an element of research. The summative fieldwork assessment will build on the feedforward of knowledge and skills developed in the formative assessments E and F.

(B) Report on geophysical hazards (25%, 2000 words). Students will be given choice from a selection of prescribed geophysical hazards, e.g. landslide hazards management, flood hazards and global climate change, geomorphology and disaster prevention.

(C) Sediments practical (25%, 2000 words). Students will undertake a granulometric analysis chosen sediment types and an environmental reconstruction of those sediments.

Formative assessments include:

(D) Small group desert geomorphology presentation

(E) Debate and reflective discussions in session on key topics and issues

(F) In-field interpretation of landforms and landscapes that blend theoretical and practical knowledge.

The above (D-F) aids the interpretation of eg. landforms and/or geophysical hazards and provide dialogic feedback to support the development of the summative assessments.

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
Explain and discuss major surface processes in a range of environments and recognise the major controls on physical landscape evolution. (A) Field-based Project Report and (B) Report on geophysical hazards, informed by formative assessments (D), (E) and (F).
Describe and apply techniques available for the study of landforms and geomorphological and sedimentological processes. (A) Field-based Project Report and (C) Sediments Practical.
Relate geomorphological processes to geophysical hazards. (B) Report on geophysical hazards, informed by formative assessments (D), (E) and applied to formative assessment (F).
Apply geomorphological analytical techniques to a range of data sources to answer contemporary research questions. (A) Field-based Project Report and (C) Sediments Practical informed by formative assessment (E).

Elements of Assessment

Description of Assessment Definitive UNISTATS Categories Percentage
Field project Coursework 50
Geophysical hazards report Coursework 25
Sediment practical investigation Coursework 25
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major element of assessment is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module.

Bibliography core texts

Alcantara-Ayala I and Goudie AS (eds) (2014) Geomorphological Hazards and Disaster Prevention. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Huggett R (2016) Fundamentals of Geomorphology (4th edition). Routledge, London.

Bibliography recommended reading

Anderson RS and Anderson SP (2010) Geomorphology: the Mechanics and Chemistry of Landscapes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Benn DI and Evans DJA (2011) Glaciers and Glaciation (2nd ed), Hodder Education, London.

Bird, E (2008) Coastal Geomorphology: An Introduction. Wiley, Chichester.

Briggs D, Smithson P, Addison K and Atkinson K (2008) Fundamentals of the Physical Environment (4th edition). Routledge, London.

Burbank DW and Anderson RS (2011) Tectonic Geomorphology (2nd edition). Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester.

Castree N, Demeritt D, Liverman D and Rhoads B (eds) (2009) A companion to Environmental Geography. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester.

Charlton, R (2008) Fundamentals of Fluvial Geomorphology. Routledge, London.

Dikau R, Brunsden D, Schrott L and Ibsen ML (eds.) (1996) Landslide Recognition: Identification, Movement and Causes. Wiley, Chichester.

Goudie, AS and Viles HE (2016) Geomorphology in the Anthropocene. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Harvey A (2012) A Guide to Landforms and Processes, Duneden Academic Press Ltd, Edinburgh.

Slaymaker O, Spencer T and Embledon-Hamann, C (2009) Geomorphology and Global Environmental Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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