Skip to main content


Ice Sheets and Sea Level

Module titleIce Sheets and Sea Level
Module codeGEO3243
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Anne Le Brocq (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The loss of ice from Greenland, Antarctica and glaciers around the world is contributing to the rise of global sea level. The two large ice sheets have the potential to add metres of sea level rise over the next century. This rise in sea level will affect millions of people living in coastal communities worldwide, so has attracted a great deal of attention from scientists, media, the general public and policy makers. However, the relationship between climate change, ice sheet dynamics and sea level is highly complex, with high levels of uncertainty.

Through this module you will first develop your understanding of glacier dynamics, in order to understand how glaciers and ice sheets respond to climate change. You will then learn about the difference between eustatic (global average) sea level and relative sea level to understand how changes in different ice masses will affect sea level in different regions to a differing extent.

You will review current, high-impact research literature to evaluate the current state of play in the major ice sheets. You will develop an understanding of the techniques used to monitor and model changes in ice sheets and quantify the resulting sea level change, focusing on satellite 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 ice sheets in a warming world.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to examine the contribution of major ice sheets to current and future sea-level rise. 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, numerical modelling and the ability to work autonomously or with others.

Enquiry-led learning is embedded in the module through the use of a simple Excel-based glacier model for the coursework assessment. The coursework will link your understanding of ice sheet systems to the challenges of predicting the contribution of ice sheets to future sea level change. The coursework assessment will be supported by introduction lectures, practical sessions and informal seminars.

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 numerical 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. Develop an in-depth understanding of ice sheets and their interaction with the climate system.
  • 2. Discuss major issues raised by climate change in the cryosphere and its impact on sea level.
  • 3. Assess, synthesise and interpret between data, projections and opinions in this contentious research area

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of climate change in the cryosphere
  • 5. Draw upon a diverse range of approaches to generate knowledge and understanding, including for example, independent reading, group seminars, computer modelling practicals
  • 6. Evaluate reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written means
  • 8. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 9. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 10. 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

Part 1: The dynamics of ice sheets
The first part of the module will take an in-depth look into the workings of the major ice sheets and their response to climatic change. Topics covered will include ice sheet mass balance, ice dynamics and the role of glacier hydrology and the ocean in driving change.

Part 2: Measurement and modelling
This section will include a look at the state-of-play of the two major ice sheets and look at measurement and modelling techniques which allow future projections to be made.

Part 3: The impact on sea level
The final part of the module will look at the impact of ice sheets on sea level in the past, present and future.

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 Teaching18Lectures (7 x 2-hour, 4 x 1-hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6Seminars (6 x 1-hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6Computer practicals (3 x 2-hour)
Guided independent study66Reading linked to lectures
Guided independent study44Work related to coursework practicals and reports
Guided independent study10Reading and preparation for presentations


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
ReportReportAllAugust 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

  • ELE page: tbc (specific articles and reading lists will be made available via ELE)

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Cryosphere, ice, glaciers, glaciations, Greenland, Antarctica, sea-level rise, climate change, 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