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Physical Geography California Field Trip

Module titlePhysical Geography California Field Trip
Module codeGEO2307C
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Rolf Aalto (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The physical geography field trip is an essential part of the Physical Geography degree programme at Exeter, providing an opportunity for you to develop your research skills in a real world environment. On the California trip you will investigate the functioning of landscapes and ecosystems in California, a biodiversity hot spot with a Mediterranean climate. A significant focus of the trip will be California’s fluvial environments and ecosystems (both lowland and mountain, and within the context of human impact and climate change). We will also investigate earthquakes, volcanic activity, classic glaciated landscapes, and the geology/geomorphology of mountains, valleys and major active faults. We will visit a diverse range of sites to observe conditions and key processes, engage in presentations and field discussions, and conduct group activities to collect field data. Many sites are exemplar field study localities, often on private land, that are the focus of active research by Exeter postgraduate students and staff. Therefore, numerous Exeter publications and student projects feature in the module reading.

The trip leaves San Francisco to investigate the spectacular coast at Pt. Reyes (viewing the San Andreas Fault and potentially a whale migration), visits the Coastal Redwoods (Earth’s tallest trees), transits the Geysers region, and then spent several days studying the Sacramento River near Chico, CA – both from the water and on land (within the unique preserve of Rancho Llano Seco, the only remaining Spanish Land Grant in California). After climbing one of the Sutter Buttes for a view of the valley, we then travel into the Sierra Nevada to study the impacts of the Gold Rush and the geology/glaciology/ecology of Lake Tahoe. We return to San Francisco via an investigation of the Sacramento Delta and the tectonic geology of the East Bay.

The module consists of two main parts:

  • Pre-trip preparation during term two: this involves a mix of lectures, group projects, and self-directed study that provide you with the background information and data to successfully undertake the field class.
  • The trip itself lasts seven full field days in California and consists of a series of visits to various study sites, from the coast to the Sierra Nevada. We will investigate a range of environments and ecosystems, taking notes and field mapping, meeting local experts, and working on group projects.

Fieldwork will involve walking several kilometres a day, often over uneven ground, so a minimum level of fitness and suitable footwear are required. A day-long paddle trip and a minor climb (~300m) are also planned. While the weather is generally warm and sunny, rain is possible and potentially snow in the mountains, so be prepared!

Geography FCH students may elect to take this module if they are taking 60 or more credits in Geography at stage 2 including GEO2331 Research Design in Physical Geography (15 credits) and GEO2332 Numerical Methods for Physical Geographers (15 credits). If a trip is oversubscribed priority will be given to students based on Stage 1 grades, priority to students for which GEO2307 is a compulsory module and availability of other trips.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The field trip has the following main aims:

  • To provide you with an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained through lecture-based modules to field-based geographical study in areas where Exeter staff and students conduct active research.
  • To enable you to acquire skills in measurement techniques and research design in sites of key importance.
  • To help you to develop and extend your awareness of the importance of taught, learnt and observational skills, in strengthening employability potential.
  • To develop transferable skills, including effective communication, time management, presentation skills.
  • To give you further preparatory training for undertaking your dissertation (GEO3321/GEO3322), especially in experimental design and execution of a research project.
  • To conduct a complete research investigation and presentation from start to finish (developing numerous skills including, project planning, development, and professional presentation).

By attending the taught session and completing formative and summative assessed coursework you will develop further your academic and professional skills. Such skills include evaluating research evidence and scientific ideas, critical thinking, discussion and presentation skills. This will help you to grow confidence and practice how to develop and present your own views and ideas in presentations or discussions and written work. You will practice how to master unfamiliar topics and respond to novel problems, how to manage structure by identifying the key information and components of a study or project, follow set goals and manage your time and workload effectively, accommodate changes in topic and prioritise tasks.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe selected field-based methodologies and techniques used in collecting, analysing and presenting geographical information within the specific context of field based geographical research, and apply these with limited guidance
  • 2. Identify, formulate and evaluate questions or problems, prepare a polished presentation on a topic
  • 3. Design, execute and report on a field research project (with due consideration of safety and risk assessment)
  • 4. Discuss specific case studies and examples relevant to specific themes relating to the field class
  • 5. Describe and explain the results of practical fieldwork and relate results to existing bodies of geographical knowledge
  • 6. Apply, interpret and use with limited guidance numerical and statistical (geographical) information
  • 7. Take a systematic approach to accuracy, precision and uncertainty

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 8. Identify a diverse range of approaches to the generation of knowledge and understanding
  • 9. Apply geographical concepts in different situations
  • 10. Outline and present the nature of change within physical environments
  • 11. Discuss reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments
  • 12. Explain the significance of spatial relationships as influences upon physical environments

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 13. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written, oral and visual means
  • 14. Use technologies effectively and appropriately and with limited guidance to select, analyse, present and communicate geographical information
  • 15. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment
  • 16. Work as a participant and leader of a group and contribute effectively to the achievement of objectives
  • 17. Reflect on the process of learning and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Topics covered by this module include:

  • Fluvial geomorphology and sedimentology
  • Ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Human impacts and climate change
  • Seismic activity and impacts of earthquakes
  • Volcanic and glacial landscapes
  • Environmental assessment and GPS
  • Environmental restoration and flood risks

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 Teaching7Preparatory lecture sessions – reading / research groups/ lectures/ small group activity
Scheduled Learning and Teaching63Field trip – directed learning in the field and small group projects, evening lectures, field project discussion, analysis sessions, student-led results presentations
Guided Independent Study80Additional reading, research and preparation for the module assessments before and after the trip


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Pre-fieldtrip oral group presentation4-6 minutesAllWritten
Pre-fieldtrip draft poster workshop10 minutesAllOral

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
Research topic: group poster30A3 sized poster1-15, 17Written
Individual research presentation, and related questions and engagement on topic307-10 minutes (including questions)1-15, 17Written
Detailed field journal40Throughout trip1-15, 17Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research topic: group posterSee notes below1-15, 17August Ref/Def
Individual research presentation, and related questions and engagement on topicSee notes below1-15, 17August Ref/Def
Detailed field journalSee notes below1-15, 17August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

These notes define what will happen in three re-assessment scenarios:

If you are unable to attend the field trip for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee or you are too late to be transferred to the Virtual Field Trip module (GEO2307E), you will be re-assessed for field work skills via two new assessments to be submitted for the August deferral period:

  • A 2000-word essay, related to key themes introduced in the pre-departure workshops;
  • A 2000-word project report based upon desk-based research on a theme, site, or issue related to California.

Both pieces of assessment will be devised in discussion with the module convenor.

If, having participated in the field trip, you are unable to complete the detailed field journal for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will be required to submit a 2000-word essay in the August deferral period. If you are deferred in the group poster, you will be required to submit an individual poster in the August deferral period. If you are deferred in the individual research presentation, you will be required to submit an individual PowerPoint presentation with a 1500-word narrative in the notes section in the August deferral period.

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.

If you fail the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%), you will be required to submit a 3000-word project report based upon desk-based research on a theme, site, or issue related to California. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Reading lists appropriate to each field trip will be issued during the previous term.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Field trip, California

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites

GEO2331 Research Design in Physical Geography and GEO2332 Numerical Methods for Physical Geographers

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date