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Numerical Methods for Physical Geographers

Module titleNumerical Methods for Physical Geographers
Module codeGEO2332
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Anne Le Brocq (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module provides you with a training in numerical methods used by physical geographers, incorporating:

  • Scientific Computing,
  • Environmental modelling,
  • Applied statistics.

Accordingly, it is designed to prepare you for undertaking research within and beyond a university context and seeks to equip you with key employability attributes for professional careers. In so doing, the module will explore a range of numerical methods that physical geographers use in research and their applications for wider society.

The module will be taught using lectures and computer practical teaching and is one of the compulsory modules you study as part of the BSc Geography degree programme.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to provide an introduction to, and critically engaged understanding of, how physical geographers adopt and use numerical methods in a range of contexts. The module has the following objectives:

  • To introduce you to different numerical methods, software platforms and languages typically used by Physical Geographers in their research,
  • To equip you in the underlying principles of numerical methods to form a base for future modules and dissertations,
  • To support you in translating your learning about numerical methods into identifiable and tangible graduate attributes to enhance your employability.

The module will use a mix of software platforms and programming languages, although no prior experience of coding is expected. The module will introduce these skills through the use of lectures, practicals and instructional, supportive resources. The module will provide you with the opportunity to develop your academic and professional skills, including abilities in problem solving, developing ideas with confidence and time management. 


Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Discuss the role of statistics, programming, and modelling in geographical research and evaluate the key concepts and principles underpinning these methods
  • 2. Identify a research problem and be able to apply knowledge and understanding of statistical, programming, and modelling theory in a practical context
  • 3. Explain the significance of statistical, programming, and modelling methods in the generation of new knowledges
  • 4. Discuss the significance of data type and scale and appreciate the range of techniques available for analysing geographical data

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 5. Evaluate the issues involved in research design and its application in the context of physical geography
  • 6. Describe the application of a number of specialised techniques and approaches involved in collecting, analysing and presenting quantitative geographical data
  • 7. Identify and evaluate commonly employed approaches to problem solving in physical geography
  • 8. Explain how statistical, programming, and modelling techniques can be used to address contemporary geographical challenges
  • 9. Apply ideas to new situations

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 10. Use C&IT effectively and appropriately to collect, analyse, and present geographical information
  • 11. Work independently on problem solving
  • 12. Effectively and appropriately interpret quantitative information

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Numerical methods in physical geography: an introduction and context.

Theme 1: An introduction to the concepts and geographical applications of scientific computing.

This theme will provide you with a working understanding of the concepts of scientific computing. You will learn the theory and application of core computing programming concepts using a computer programming language. Teaching is conducted through both lectures and practical sessions.

Theme 2: An introduction to environmental modelling in geographical research.

This section of the module explores the complexity of environmental systems and the ways in which numerical models can be employed to better understand and quantify system behaviour. This section examines the principles of modelling and explores (through a practical exercise) the opportunities and limitations surrounding such methods. The teaching explores the application of modelling theory to real world situations. 

Theme 3: An introduction to statistical techniques and how these can be applied in physical science research within geography.

This part of the module provides you with a knowledge and understanding of specific statistical techniques that are commonly employed in the analysis of environmental data. This section of the module will encourage you to think about the appropriate use of statistical methods and introduce you to some core statistical techniques via real world data.


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 Teaching10Lecture-based sessions
Scheduled Learning and Teaching20Computer-based practical sessions
Guided Independent study120Background reading, assessment revision and coursework preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Informal demonstration, questioning, discussionSelf-paced, continuous1-12Verbal and practical feedback support during scheduled sessions

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
Scientific computing and environmental modelling practical report.65Equivalent to 1500 words1-12Written
Statistics practical report35Equivalent to 1000 words1-12Written


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Scientific computing and modelling practical exercise Equivalent to 1500 words1-12August Ref/Def period
Statistics practicalEquivalent to 1000 words1-12August Ref/Def 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 (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit further practical coursework as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geography, research methods, quantitative analysis

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites

GEO2334 Research Design in Physical Geography

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date