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Atmosphere and Ocean Systems

Module titleAtmosphere and Ocean Systems
Module codeGEO2428B
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Jamie Shutler (Convenor)

Dr Katy Sheen (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

How are atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns formed? How are these interlinked? What drives the weather? How do we know what our climate and weather was like in the past and what it may look like in the future? This module takes the first steps in understanding the Earth's major dynamic systems. Lectures are supported by group work, student-led sessions, a practical class where you will learn how to use and exploit a simple climate model, seminars by invited speakers, TED talks, journal papers and additional online resources.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module examines the physical processes operating in Earth’s linked atmospheric and oceanic (climatic) system. It provides you with an introduction to the circulation of the oceans and atmosphere and how they interact, and to the cyclical behaviour of ocean-atmosphere systems on different temporal and spatial scales. Past changes in ocean-atmosphere circulation and environments are also examined. The module addresses some of the causes and effects of present-day (anthropogenic) climate changes and their impacts on the ocean-atmosphere system, and provides a valuable background in both knowledge and skills for a wide range of possible employment types.

All of the content within this module is guided by the aims of Research, Enquiry and Applications Led Learning (REAL).  For example, the invited speakers will present and discuss their latest research, all case studies used within the course focus on recent journal publications, examples from current university of Exeter research activities (e.g. from the Centre for Geography, Environment and Society) will be used to demonstrate different theories and methods, and information from relevant international workshops, activities and/or news will be given and discussed. Examples from the module leader’s own research group will also be used to highlight recent developments.

Through attending the weekly lectures and seminars and by completing the assessments, you will further develop the following academic and professional skills to improve your employability for your future career:

  • problem solving (linking theory to practice, developing your own ideas with confidence, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems),
  • managing structure (identifying key demands of the task, setting clearly defined goals, responding flexibly to changing priorities),
  • time management (managing time effectively individually and within a group),
  • collaboration (respecting the views and values of others, taking initiative and leading others, supporting others in their work, maintaining group cohesiveness and purpose),
  • audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively in multiple formats, persuading others of the importance and relevance of your views, responding positively and effectively to questions) and
  • effective open dicsussion.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Review, with direction, the physical processes operating in the linked ocean-atmosphere system on different spatial and temporal scales
  • 2. Discuss the reasons why relationships between these physical processes change over time and space, and what implications they have in terms of global- to regional-scale climate
  • 3. Design and run experiments with a simple climate model to address questions relating to the interaction of the oceans and the atmosphere
  • 4. Evaluate with direction the processes involved in present-day climate changes, including those associated with human activity, and the implications that these have for future climates
  • 5. Describe and evaluate the interlinkages between the operation of different physical processes associated with global climate on different time and space scales
  • 6. Illustrate the role of human activity in changing the operation of the climate system

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 7. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of the geography
  • 8. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 9. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in geography
  • 10. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within geography
  • 11. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of geography with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 12. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 13. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 14. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 15. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 16. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The syllabus will be based on (but not limited to) the following topics:

  • Introduction to atmosphere-ocean systems           
  • Global radiation balance
  • Forces and fluid dynamics
  • Air movement and air masses
  • Global atmospheric circulation
  • Water masses and surface ocean currents
  • Thermohaline circulation
  • Introduction to climate and Earth system models
  • Climate and predictability
  • Terrestrial and marine sediments
  • Ice cores
  • Quaternary chronology
  • IPCC
  • El Nino/Southern Oscillation
  • Radiocarbon dating
  • Isotopes
  • Records of past climate change
  • Future global change

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 Teaching 22Lectures focussing on the presentation and understanding of key concepts, supported by case studies drawn from real-world situations and supported by selected readings
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 2Practical class – understanding and using a simple climate model
Guided independent study126Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures Ongoing throughout the moduleAllOral
Student led lectures and seminarsThree sessionsAllOral

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
Examination601 hour1-14Written
Written report401500 words1-8, 11-14Written and Oral


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationExamination1-14August Assessment Period
Written reportWritten report1-8, 11-14August Assessment Period

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 (ie a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination. 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

  • Bell, M and Walker, MJC. 2005. Quaternary Environmental Change: Physical and Human Perspectives. Pearson: Prentice Hall. 2nd Edition.
  • Anderson, DE, Goudie, AS and Parker, AG. 2007. Global Environments Through the Quaternary: Exploring Environmental Change. OUP.
  • Barry and Chorley, 2003. Atmosphere, Weather and Climate, 8th ed. Routledge, London.
  • Wells, 1997. The Atmosphere and Ocean, a physical introduction. Wiley, Chichester.
  • Smithson, Addison and Atkins, 2008. Fundamentals of the Physical Environment, 4th ed. Routledge, London.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Climate change, solar radiation, air, ocean, circulation, El Nino, Quaternary, ice cores, IPCC, climate models, Earth System models

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date