The Earth's Dynamic Systems

Module summary

Module code: ENVI1038
Level: 4
Credits: 30
School: Engineering and Science
Department: Natural Resources Institute
Module Coordinator(s): Bruce Haggart



The module is intended to provide an introduction to the physical, chemical and biological processes that operate within the Earth and on its surface, including the atmosphere and oceans, and the linkages that exist between them. In addition to being global in spatial scale there is an introduction to the temporal dimension with coverage both on geological tectonic timescales through to more recent climatic and environmental change over the last 3 million years of the Quaternary. The module aims therefore to introduce students to the concepts of spatial and temporal change and process interlinkages at different scales in order fully to understand the factors that influence the shape and composition of the Earth's surface, a prerequisite of effective environmental management. In essence, the module aims to provide a solid grounding in physical geography to enable progression at subsequent levels.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:
1. Demonstrate a knowledge of the structure of the Earth and its major topographic features;
2. Show an understanding of the broad module of Earth history including the last 2.6 million years of the Quaternary Ice Ages;
3. Show an awareness of the main processes that act within and at the Earth’s surface, its atmosphere and oceans;
4. Demonstrate an understanding of how these processes are observed and measured;
5. Show an appreciation of how these major processes interact at a variety of spatial and temporal scales;
6. Understand how scientists use knowledge of these dynamic processes to inform effective environmental management.

Indicative content

The module is divided into 6 sections:
(i) Earth Systems: Earth’s structure, rock types and formation, the rock cycle, the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics, tectonic landscapes.
(ii) Marine Systems: oceans and circulation; coastal processes (waves, tides, nearshore currents, sediment transport); coastal environments (rocky coasts, beaches, mudflats and saltmarshes); coastal change (sea-level change).
(iii) Atmospheric Systems: global energy budget; heat and moisture in the atmosphere (stability and instability); winds and atmospheric motion; weather forming systems; geomorphology and wind.
(iv) Biological Systems: the biosphere, terrestrial and aquatic biomes; biogeography, spatial and temporal patterns, processes and distributions of plants and animals.
(v) Geomorphological and Hydrological Systems: weathering, chemical and physical weathering; slope processes and landform evolution; sediments and sedimentation; catchment hydrology (precipitation, evaporation, groundwater, runoff, stream flow); hillslope hydrology and geomorphology (rain splash, sheet flow, piping, gullying, soil erosion); rivers and fluvial landscapes (water flow in alluvial channels, channel adjustment and dominant discharge, main type of alluvial channel); glaciers and glacial landscapes (glacial mechanics, sediments and landforms); periglacial processes and permafrost.
(vi) Earth Systems and Time: climate change (change through geological time, the Quaternary Ice Age); types of evidence (physical and biological); mechanics and concepts of climate change (role of plate tectonics, Milankovitch, and humans in climate change).