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Introduction to Physical Geography and Environmental Hazards

  • Module code: GG4080
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: 4
  • Credits: 30
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Co-requisites: None

Summary

This is a Level 4 module for Geography and Environmental Science students. Core lectures introduce key fundamental topics in physical geography, overviewing the various spheres of the Earth, associated processes and interaction. Themes are presented systematically as a cross-section of the Earth's physical structure: geological underpinning, Earth surface processes (introducing geomorphology, the pedosphere and hydrosphere), the atmosphere, and the biosphere. Interwoven within these topics will be lectures on associated environmental hazards, including geophysical hazards (eg. volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis), atmospheric hazards (including hurricanes and tornadoes) and environmental and ecological hazards (including oil spills, mine contamination and wildfires). The processes behind these major natural and man-made environmental hazards will be described, with reasons provided for their occurrence and global spatial distribution. Detailed case studies will be provided for each hazard, from a variety of geographical regions, in order to build a portfolio of examples, enhancing your knowledge of the processes, impacts and means of forecasting and mitigating against the hazards becoming disasters. The module is a pre-requisite for Level 5 environmental and geographical modules: Geomorphology and Geophysical Hazards; Land Water and the Environment; Ecology and Conservation. The module introduces you to the application of geophysical knowledge and skills and potential discipline-related employment opportunities and alerts you to a range of transferable employability skills that will be developed throughout the module. These include discipline-based skills by identifying applications of geophysical knowledge to real world challenges and transferable skills developed in the learning activities and related assessments.

Aims

  • To introduce key concepts in physical geography.
  • To thematically describe and explain the key processes that operate in physical geography and environmental systems (namely the biosphere, lithosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere) and their distribution in space and time.
  • To introduce the major geophysical, atmospheric and environmental/ecological hazards occurring in the natural environment.
  • To consider the impacts of the various hazards and how these can be understood and managed through forecasting and mitigation (eg. disaster risk reduction) exemplified through a range of case studies.

Learning outcomes

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

  • Understand the fundamental principles of physical geography and explain the operation and interaction of key geological and physical Earth systems.
  • Identify the major physical hazards associated with the natural environment and exemplify these with case study evidence.
  • Develop a range of practical skills in the analysis of geological and physical Earth systems and their associated hazards.
  • Demonstrate how knowledge of physical geography and environmental hazards can be applied to the management of geophysical systems and identify and value geophysical-related employability skills.

Curriculum content

  • Introduction - unifying themes and models for understanding planetary development and the geophysical development of the Earth.
  • Development of the plate tectonics hypothesis: early evidence; continental drift; apparent polar wander; sea floor spreading; and development of the unifying theory.
  • Introduction to the relationship between geology and the environment: volcanoes, earthquakes and climate change.
  • Introduction to Earth materials: the rock cycle; minerals; sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks.
  • The changing face of the Earth: geomorphology, geomorphological processes and landform development. Introduction to concepts of landscape change and causality, geomorphological thresholds and effectiveness.
  • The pedosphere: soils, their characterization, formation and properties.
  • The hydrosphere: chemical and physical properties, the global hydrological cycle and an investigation of the components of this cycle.
  • The atmosphere: nature and properties; planetary energy budget; and global atmospheric circulation.
  • The biosphere: ecosystem structure and the transfer of energy and matter; factors limiting distributions; and change in ecological systems (genes and the environment).
  • Introduction to natural hazards and disasters: importance of studying natural hazards; importance of historical records in understanding hazards and disasters; fundamental concepts in hazard analysis; key cycles: rock, hydrologic, tectonic and biogeochemical.
  • Description of the underpinning science, occurrence, spatial distribution, effects, natural service functions, human interaction and perception analysis for major hazard types linked to plate tectonics, geomorphology, the pedosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.

Teaching and learning strategy

This module is delivered through lectures, practical laboratory sessions, seminars, and student project work. Lectures are designed to introduce and facilitate understanding of the basic principles of the subjects covered in the curriculum and will be supported through interactive seminars/workshops and the use of directed reading to stimulate debate. These may be supported with the use of clickers and/or digi-polls to support interaction, for example reviewing the previous week's session(s). Detailed case studies will help to lay the preparatory ground for the application of knowledge. The practical work will develop these topics and illustrate the principles of monitoring and managing select environmental systems. Practical exercises will require students to make accurate observations and evaluate the data collected and will also promote teamwork. The formative and summative assessments will develop skills in written presentation, ICT and in independent learning.

Employability skills are developed as an integral component of the teaching and learning strategy. Discipline specific skills include environmental problem solving through practical exercises and, more widely, students will develop a range of employability skills including communication (eg. articulating ideas through discussion and debate and writing) and digital literacy though ICT-supported exercises.

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 42 42 23
Guided independent study 193
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

The module assessment strategy develops assessment for learning across a variety of categories, including: a portfolio of short practical reports (coursework), a poster presentation (practical examination) and a written examination. The variety of assessment types will help to build the students' range of skills and should develop the students' ability to work both independently and as part of a team (skills widely sought in the real world when applying for jobs).

Summative assessments consist of:

(A) A group poster presentation on a volcano case study (30%) to exemplify the understanding of the relationship between plate tectonic setting and volcano type, associated hazards, impacts and natural service functions.

(B) Drainage basin exercise (30%, 1500 words plus graphics) that draws together geological, geomorphological and hydrological concepts and challenges students to interpret the drainage basin/s and the interactions of physical processes.

(C) End of module written examination (40%, 2 hour) to examine all aspects of the module Learning Objectives.

Formative assessments include:

(D) Reflective tests using clickers and digi-polls to review the material from the week before and identify knowledge-skills gaps.

(E) In-class supervised practical sessions to link theory with practice.

(F) Debates and reflective discussions in-session on key topics and issues.

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
1) Understand the fundamental principles of physical geography and explain the operation and interaction of key geological and physical Earth systems. (B) Drainage basin exercise and (C) Examination informed by feedback from formative assessments D, E and F.
2) Identify the major physical hazards associated with the natural environment and exemplify these with case study evidence (A) Volcano case study and (C) Examination informed by feedback formative assessment D and F.
3) Develop a range of practical skills in the analysis of geological and physical Earth systems and their associated hazards. (B) Drainage basin exercise informed by the formative in-class formative practical sessions E
4) Demonstrate how knowledge of the physical geography and environmental hazards can be applied for the management of geophysical systems and identify and value geophysical-related employability skills. (A) Volcano case study and (C) Examination informed by feedback formative assessment D and F.

Elements of Assessment

Description of Assessment Definitive UNISTATS Categories Percentage
Group-based poster presentation Practical examination 30
Drainage basin exercise Coursework 30
End of module examination Written Examination 40
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

Holden J (2017) An introduction to Physical Geography and the Environment (4th Edition), Pearson, Harlow.

Marshak S (2012) Earth: Portrait of a Planet (4th edition), Norton, ISBN: 978-0-393-93518-9

Keller EA and Blodgett RH (2012) Natural Hazards: Earth's Processes as Hazards, Disasters and Catastrophes (3rd edition). Pearson Prentice Hall, ISBN: 0-13-030957-5.

Bibliography recommended reading

Barry RG and Chorley RJ (2009) Atmosphere, Weather and Climate (9th Edition).  Routledge, London.

Bradbury I, Boyle J and Morse A (2002) Scientific Principles for Physical Geographers. Prentice Hall, Harlow.

Cox B and Moore PD (2010) Biogeography (8th Edition), Wiley, Chichester.

Gerrard J (2000) Fundamentals of Soil Science. Wiley,Chichester.

Grotzinger J and Jordan TH (2010) Understanding Earth (6th Edition). Freeman, ISBN-10: 1-4292-1951-3; ISBN-13: 978-1-4292-1951-8.

Summerfield MA (1991) Global Geomorphology: An Introduction to the Study Landforms. Longman, Harlow.

Park C (2001) The Environment: Principles and Applications (2nd Edition). Routledge, London.

Smith K (2013) Environmental Hazards: Assessing Risk and Reducing Disaster (6th Edition). Routledge, London.

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

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