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Landscape Response to Environmental Change: from Source to Sink

Module titleLandscape Response to Environmental Change: from Source to Sink
Module codeGEO2233
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Georgie Bennett (Convenor)

Professor Andrew Nicholas (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The landscape can be conceptualized as a source to sink system through which water, sediment and nutrients flow from mountains to sea. Mountains provide a source of sediment and nutrients through erosional processes such as landslides and water runoff. Coastal landforms, such as deltas, provide a depositional sink for this material. Rivers and their floodplains modulate the transfer of sediment and nutrients from uplands to the coast. This module is designed to give you an overview of the mechanisms of sediment production, transport and deposition and associated landscape change from source to sink, as well as the response of the landscape to changing environmental conditions (e.g., climate, land use and relative sea level). The module comprises a combination of lectures and practical exercises, in which you will apply a range of computer simulation models to explore landscape processes and responses to natural and human-induced environmental change. Module assessment is by coursework (100%), which will require a substantial time commitment to complete the associated computing, data analysis and interpretation exercises.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module has the following broad aims:

  • To provide you with an understanding of the factors and processes that control source to sink landscape dynamics, and the roles that humans play in perturbing natural landscape function.
  • To introduce you to the potential for using computer models to quantify and simulate landscape dynamics and explore the implications of environmental change and human behaviour for landscape stability.
  • To provide you with experience of a variety of data analysis and modelling techniques that are relevant to the quantitative study of landscape systems and to employment in a range of environmental consultancies.

The module involves in-depth practicals and group work that seek to develop the following graduate attributes: 

  • Teamwork skills in preparation of formative presentations at the end of each block.
  • confidence in assessing the robustness of scientific evidence and in generating and delivering verbal presentations
  • problem solving through quantitative data analysis and evaluation of assumptions that underpin alternative analysis methodologies with varying levels of complexity
  • articulating scientific concepts and evidence with confidence through enquiry-led research in the formative presentations and assessed reports

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by the module convenors, such as work on natural hazards, sediment transport, landscape evolution and the application and evaluation of numerical models.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Discuss landscape processes and morphology in different parts of the landscape (from mountains to lowlands)
  • 2. Describe and explain the feedbacks between different parts of the landscape and how this may influence response to disturbances over a range of time and space scales
  • 3. Employ computer models to simulate landscape processes and response to environmental change
  • 4. Analyse and quantitatively evaluate the results from such simulations
  • 5. Synthesise knowledge from literature sources and apply this knowledge to interpret simulation results

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 6. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding, particularly with respect to landscape evolution and the application of simulation models
  • 7. Evaluate and apply a diverse range of specialised techniques and approaches involved in collecting geographical information quantifying landscape morphology and processes
  • 8. Assess rigorously the nature and causes of change and process-form feedbacks that govern the evolution of geographical systems
  • 9. Discuss reciprocal relationships between physical and human environments

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently by written means with supporting diagrams and analytical results
  • 11. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 12. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem solving
  • 13. Undertake independent and group learning

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The module will be divided into two parts, each of which will address different landscape features (e.g., rivers and floodplains, deltas, mountains etc). Each of these three parts will include lectures that: (a) Summarise the main processes that operate in the landscape; (b) Discuss the factors that control the evolution of the landscape and, where relevant, the role played by humans in this evolution; and (c) Provide an introduction to a set of practical exercises that support the assessed coursework. Following these contextual lectures, you will work to conduct practical exercises that involve a range of numerical models and data analysis (in IT classes).


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 Teaching9Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching12IT practical (9 x 2 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2seminars (2x1)
Guided Independent Study113Coursework, practicals and associated reading


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar session testing knowledge using collaborative document with verbal and written feedback during and after session2 x 1 hour1-13Oral and written

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
Written coursework report501000 words equivalent1-13Written
Written coursework report501000 words equivalent1-13Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written coursework reportReport (1000 words equivalent)1-13August Ref/Def
Written coursework reportReport (1000 words equivalent)1-13August 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 described above. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

There is no single core text for this module. Reading will be drawn from current literature in a range of scientific journals such as Nature Geoscience, Geology, Journal of Geophysical Research etc. Indicative examples include:

  • Allen, P. (2008) From landscapes into geological history, Nature, vol 451, doi:10.1038/nature06586
  • Bennett, G.L.,Molnar, P., McArdell, B.W., Burlando, P. (2014) A probabilistic sediment cascade model of sediment transfer in the Illgraben. Water Resources Research, 50, doi:10.1002/2013WR013806.
  • Ferguson, R.I. (2001) Fluvial aggradation in Vedder River: Testing a one-dimensional sedimentation model, Water Resources Research, vol 37, 3331-3347.
  • James, L.A. (2006) Bed waves at the basin scale: implications for river management and restoration, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, vol 31, 1692-1706.
  • Nittrouer, J.A. and Viparelli, E. (2014) Sand as a stable and sustainable resource for nourishing the Mississippi River Delta, Nature Geoscience, vol 7, 350-354.
  • Perron, J.T.(2017) Climate and the pace of erosional landscape evolution, Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, vol 45, p 561 - 591
  • Syvitski, J.P.M. et al. (2009) Sinking deltas due to human activities, Nature Geoscience, vol 2, p 681-686.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE page:

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Landscape dynamics, source to sink, environmental change, simulation, remote sensing, numerical model

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


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Last revision date