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The Cryosphere

Module titleThe Cryosphere
Module codeGEO3220
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Anne Le Brocq (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

Mass loss from Greenland, Antarctica and glaciers around the world is contributing positively to eustatic sea-level rise. This has attracted a great deal of attention from scientists, media, the general public and policy makers around the world. Synchronous changes in glacier flow speeds point towards a regional control, either oceanographic or atmospheric. Through this module you will develop your understanding of glacier dynamics, research methods and knowledge related to polar environments. You will review current, high impact, research literature to evaluate contemporary hot-topics in glaciology. You will develop understanding of polar environments and the techniques used to monitor the cryosphere, including field-work, remote- sensing and ice sheet modelling. You will critically engage with research methods and findings in order to gain a better understanding of limitations and uncertainty in understanding the response of the cryosphere to a warming world.

GEO2228 Cold Climate Geomorphology is not a prerequisite for this course as the material covered deals with contemporary ice masses. However, it may be beneficial to take this module to provide context and become familiar with some terminology.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to examine the major issues within this diverse research area of glaciology and polar environments. Themes tackled will include interactions between ice and the environment, mass balance, controls on ice flow, measurement approaches and future prediction. Being able to present a well-balanced critically evaluated argument is a transferable skill required for many graduate job opportunities. You will develop key transferable skills during this module including critical evaluation, research, presentation, communication, team work, self-motivation, spatial skills, image processing, numerical modelling and the ability to work autonomously or with others.

Enquiry-led learning is embedded in the module through guided independent practicals and assessment encouraging independent research. Much of the content includes research and applications for the lecturer’s own work on the topic. This includes investigating ice dynamics from satellite remote sensing, ice sheet model experiments andsea-ice extent changes.

This module will help you develop skills to enhance your employability potential and career development through:

  • Enhancing your understanding and application of research skills including remote sensing and modelling.
  • Providing you with the opportunity to engage in enquiry-led learning through exploring hot topics of the cryosphere.
  • Developing your communication skills and portfolio by producing online presentation videos, written report and exam answer essays.
  • Developing good practice of contributing to, and working in groups through self-directed tutorials and formative work.
  • Encouraging you to think critically about the ways in which knowledge is applied and communicated in the media, literature and online.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe comprehensively the role of ice in all its forms within the Earth's climate system
  • 2. Discuss comprehensively major issues raised by climate change in the cryosphere from a geographical perspective
  • 3. Assess, synthesise and interpret between data, projections and opinions in this contentious research area
  • 4. Assess how humans can affect and possibly mitigate for the effects of climate change within the cryosphere

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of climate change in the cryosphere
  • 6. Draw upon a diverse range of approaches to generate knowledge and Understanding, including for example, independent reading, group seminars, computer modelling practicals
  • 7. Critically evaluate a diverse range of specialised techniques and approaches involved in collecting geographical information
  • 8. Describe, apply and evaluate the diversity of specialised techniques and approaches involved in analysing geographical information
  • 9. Describe the nature of change and system interconnectedness within physical environments
  • 10. Evaluate reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments
  • 11. Assess the significance of spatial relationships and the temporal distribution of physical processes on physical and human environments.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 12. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written means
  • 13. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 14. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 15. Identify, acquire, critically evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 16. Understand the spatial and temporal characteristics of environmental perturbations appropriately to understand change
  • 17. Effectively and appropriately interpret and use physical theory and statistical information
  • 18. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management, library use and website investigation) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

  • Ice in the climate and sea level system
  • Glacier mass balance and ice dynamics
  • Mechanisms of surge type glaciers
  • The Arctic – ice-caps, sea-ice, feedbacks and vulnerability
  • Greenland – Mechanisms for mass loss and future impacts
  • The Antarctic ice sheet – ice-streams, ice shelves, stability and projections
  • Introduction to remote sensing in glaciology
  • Introduction to ice sheet modelling

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 Teaching16Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Computer practical
Scheduled Learning and Teaching5Seminars – activity led with discussion and active learning
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Revision session, go through past papers, coursework feedback and mock exams.
Guided Independent Study20Reading and preparation for formative presentation work
Guided Independent Study20Analysing, critiquing, reviewing scientific literature
Guided Independent Study80Independent reading


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Online group presentations 4 minutesAllIn the lecture series through staff and peer evaluation

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
Report402000 wordsAllWritten and oral
Examination602 hoursAllWritten and oral


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ReportReport 1AllAugust Ref/Def
ExaminationExaminationAllAugust 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. Evans D.J.A., Glaciers and Glaciation. 2nd edition. (2010) Hodder Education

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Articles and reading lists for seminars will be distributed via ELE, sourced from leading journals such as

  • Science
  • Nature
  • Arctic and Alpine Research
  • Antarctic Science.

Key words search

Cryosphere, glaciers, glaciations, Greenland, Antarctica, sea-level rise, climate change, sea-ice, ice, ice-streams, ice-shelves, mass balance

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date