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Coastal Systems in a Changing World

Module titleCoastal Systems in a Changing World
Module codeGEO3245
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Barend Van Maanen (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The coastal zone represents the interface between the land and the sea; it is an area that is highly dynamic and of interest to scientists, engineers and managers. Coastal systems are incredibly valuable from various perspectives.

They host a broad range of ecosystems that provide key services such as carbon sequestration, provision of habitat for various organisms, filtering and detoxification of pollutants and protection against storm impacts. At the same time, these environments host large urbanized settings and the coast is clearly a popular site for settlement. To illustrate, 23% of the global population is currently living within 100 km of the coast and less than 100 m above sea level. Coasts have always been vulnerable but are now increasingly threatened by both natural and human-related pressures, including climate change and associated sea level rise.

This module is designed to give you an overview of the underlying processes that control the evolution of coastal landscapes and how they will respond to climatic changes and anthropogenic disturbances. The module involves a combination of different learning activities, including computer practicals, in which you will apply techniques to explore fascinating morphological patterns. Module assessment is by coursework (100%). 

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module has the following aims:

  • To provide you with an in-depth understanding of the processes that control the evolution of coastal systems, and the impacts of environmental change
  • To introduce you to the spatial and temporal scales associated with coastal morphodynamic behaviour and the links between processes and the emergence of landscape patterns
  • To introduce you to different modelling techniques in the field of coastal morphodynamics, and further develop your skills in analysing and interpreting data.

In addition, the coursework in this module will allow you to develop your 1) ability to work in a team; 2) written communication skills; 3) quantitative and technical expertise; and 4) critical thinking skills. 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Describe and explain the (bio)physical feedbacks that operate in the coastal zone
  • 2. Recognize the key landforms in different coastal settings
  • 3. Describe in detail the key factors that determine the vulnerability and resilience of coastal systems

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 5. Outline a diverse range of approaches to the generation of knowledge and understanding
  • 6. Assess the nature of change within physical environments
  • 7. Discuss reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 8. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently
  • 9. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 10. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 11. Identify, acquire, evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The content of this module will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction to coastal systems
  • Physical processes in the coastal zone
  • Feedbacks between hydrodynamics, sediment dynamics and morphological change
  • Modelling approaches for coastal systems
  • Morphodynamics of tidal basins, estuaries, deltas, sandy and rocky coasts, coastal wetlands
  • Critical assessment of management practices

The computer exercises and related coursework will engage you with the collection and analysis of data to investigate the effects of vegetation on coastal landscapes.

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 (9 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12Practicals (6 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1Paper discussion
Guided Independent Study5Reading for in-class paper discussions
Guided Independent Study114Reading, research and report writing


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Contribution to practical sessions~2 hours each1-11Oral feedback from peers and tutor

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
Science video40Video of max 5 minutes1-11Written
Scientific report602000 words1-11Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Science videoScientific video1-11August Ref/Def
Scientific reportScientific report1-11August 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 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

Mainly through directed and other reading of primary science literature. Details will be provided during lectures and practicals. In addition, the following texts may be useful for introductory reading:

  • Woodroffe, C. D. (2002). Coasts: form, process and evolution. Cambridge University Press.
  • Masselink, G., & Gehrels, R. (Eds.). (2014). Coastal environments and global change. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Davidson-Arnott, R., Bauer, B., & Houser, C. (2019). Introduction to coastal processes and geomorphology. Cambridge University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

  • ELE – 

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Coastal systems; landscape dynamics; environmental change; biophysical interactions; numerical modelling; data analysis

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date