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Cold Climate Geomorphology

Module titleCold Climate Geomorphology
Module codeGEO2228
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Alastair Graham (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

A fundamental challenge in the cryospheric sciences is to project the future of Earth's ice masses in the context of ever-changing environmental conditions. In addressing this challenge, the processes, landforms, and materials of glacial environments inform much of what we know about glacial response to environmental change. Through this module, you will develop an understanding of the physical processes that act to erode and shape our planet's diverse icy landscapes. You will study the concepts and theory of cold-climate (glacial and periglacial) geomorphology, the practical methods and techniques in the geomorphologist's toolbox, and engage with current research on glacial processes and landforms, in Antarctica and the Arctic: on land, under the sea, and beneath the ice.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module aims to provide an introduction to the physical processes that combine to erode and shape glacial and near-glacial landforms and landscapes. Focus will be upon classes that provide you with a grounding in components of the cryosphere, a broad overview of form and process in cold-climate settings both past and present, and a background to the methods and tools for reconstructing past change in these environments. Fieldwork will develop further your skills in describing, analysing, and interpreting glacially-influenced sedimentary environments. Practicals will provide additional exposure to computer-based geomorphological investigation using geophysical and geospatial data that will equip you with useful skills for dissertation work or further specialised study. This module will help you to develop and extend your awareness of the importance of taught and learnt skills in strengthening your employability potential. 

Specifically, the practical aspects of the module will develop the following graduate attributes:

  • Articulating scientific concepts and confidence in generating new ideas during the fieldwork day
  • Skills in making observations and reasoning interpretations during the field day
  • Problem-solving through investigation of a scientific question in data-led practicals and report.
  • Interpersonal skills during group-based discussions in all practical elements of the module

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by the module staff, such as work on glacial sediments, landforms, and reconstructions of glacier change through time.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Distinguish the components of the cryosphere and describe the principles of glacier motion, mass balance, and glacier change
  • 2. Illustrate the processes and factors affecting glacial erosion, debris transport, and sediment deposition
  • 3. Explain how erosional and depositional processes combine to produce different glacial and periglacial landforms and landscapes
  • 4. Explain how cold climate indicators are preserved in the geomorphological and sedimentological records
  • 5. Outline the use of glacial geomorphology to reconstruct past environments
  • 6. Assess, synthesise and discuss cold-climate geomorphological data, their contested interpretation, and relevance

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Outline the nature of change within physical environments
  • 8. Evaluate a range of techniques and approaches involved in collecting and analysing geographical information
  • 9. Develop skills in field observations and logging of sedimentary sections desired by potential employers
  • 10. Identify a diverse range of approaches to the generation of knowledge and understanding

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 11. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written and verbal means
  • 12. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 13. Identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 14. Effectively and appropriately handle and interpret geophysical and geospatial information

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module introduces you to cold-climate geomorphology through six topics:

  • Glaciology and hydrology
  • Erosion
  • Transport and deposition
  • Landforms and glacial features
  • Periglacial environments
  • Palaeoglaciology

Lectures are supplemented by computer-based and hands-on practicals, and by a day-long field trip to the coast of North Devon. It is desirable, although not essential, that students have prior experience of using ArcGIS software for completing the module coursework.   

Representative lecture structure:

  • Introduction to cold-climate geomorphology
  • Background glaciology
  • Glacier hydrology
  • Glacial erosional processes and small-scale erosional forms
  • Large-scale erosional forms and landscapes of erosion
  • Transport processes and describing sediments
  • Glacigenic sediments and depositional processes
  • Subglacial bedforms
  • Ice-marginal landscapes
  • Glacimarine landscapes
  • Periglacial processes and landforms
  • Permafrost and environmental changes
  • Glacial landsystems
  • Ingredients for large-scale ice sheet reconstructions
  • Revision lecture

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1414 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching61 day field trip – formative hurdle
Scheduled Learning and Teaching63 x 2 hour practical sessions
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11 hour staff-led revision session
Guided Independent Study49Additional reading and preparation for module examination
Guided Independent Study74Research, reading and preparation for coursework


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Online quiz related to practical 1 and lecture material1 hour1-3Oral and written to group, individual oral feedback also offered
FieldworkAttendance and workbook submission at end of trip 1-4, 6, 9-12Oral feedback in lecture

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Examination5090 minutesAllWritten
Scientific report501800 words2-6, 8, 11-14Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust Ref/Def
Scientific reportScientific report2-6, 8, 11-14August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Benn, D.I. and Evans D.J.A. Glaciers and Glaciation. London: Hodder Education; 2010.
  • Bennett, M. and Glasser N.J. Glacial Geology: Ice Sheets and Landforms, 2nd Edition. Wiley; 2009.
  • Cuffey, K. and Paterson, W.S.B. The Physics of Glacers: Elsevier; 2010 – chapters 2, 4, and 6

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Indicative journal articles:

  • Bennett, M.R., (2003). Ice streams as the arteries of an ice sheet: their mechanics, stability and significance. Earth-Science Reviews, 61(3-4): 309–339.
  • Boulton, G.S. (1996) Theory of glacial erosion, transport, and deposition as a consequence of subglacial sediment deformation. Journal of Glaciology, 42: 43–62
  • Bennett, M.R. (2001) The morphology, structural evolution and significance of push moraines. Earth-Science Reviews, 53(3-4): 197–236.
  • Clark, C.D. (2010) Emergent drumlins and their clones: from till dilatancy to flow instabilities. Journal of Glaciology, 56(200): 1011–1025.
  • Stokes, C.R. and C.D. Clark, (1999). Geomorphological criteria for identifying Pleistocene ice streams. Annals of Glaciology, 28: 67–74.

Key words search

Geomorphology, cryosphere, cold-climate, glacier, periglacial, Antarctica, the Arctic

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date