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Study information

Ice Sheets: Glaciology, Climate and the Oceans

Module titleIce Sheets: Glaciology, Climate and the Oceans
Module codeGEO2451
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Edward Gasson (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module provides a process-based understanding of glaciology, of how glaciers and ice sheets influence climate and the feedbacks between ice sheets and the ocean. These processes are some of the most critical in determining the future global societal impacts of global warming, notably linked to sea-level change and altered heat transport as a result of ocean circulation perturbation, and hazards, including iceberg scour and submarine mass movement of glacigenic sediments generating tsunami and coastal landslides. The module involves assessment linked to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a two-day fieldtrip to North Wales (subject to lifting of COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing restrictions to enable fieldwork to proceed). No pre-requisite modules are required and the module is suitable for non-specialist students. The module is complementary with Atmosphere and Oceans as useful background for third level modules GEO3454 Antarctica: Science from a Frozen Continent, GEO3456 Arctic Climate Change, GEO3455 Marine Climate and Environmental Change. The module is recommended for interdisciplinary pathways and as preparation for the GEOM363B Themes in Climate Change module at MSc level.

When participating in field courses, you will be required to cover any visa costs and, if necessary, purchase anti-malarial medication and relevant immunisations. You will also need to provide your own specialist personal equipment appropriate to the field course destination, eg. walking boots, rucksack, mosquito net, sleeping bag, binoculars. You may incur additional costs dependent upon the specific demands of the research project chosen. Details of specialist equipment, vaccinations and visas that you must supply at your own expense are provided at

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • Provide a descriptive understanding of the physics underlying the accumulation, decay, flow, erosive potential, and sedimentation processes associated with glaciers terminating on land and in the ocean.
  • Provide an understanding of the feedback processes between ice sheets and the atmosphere, and the impact of ice sheets on climate from local to global scales.
  • Identify the ways in which glaciers and ice sheets register and preserve proxy climate data, and the range of climate and environmental proxies that are contained in ice cores
  • Understand the different sources and types of ice found in contact with the ocean.
  • Understand the role of glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice, and their interactions with the ocean, in the global climate system at the present day, in the past and in the future, including forcing of ocean circulation and controls of sea level.
  • Explore the macroscale sediment-landform associations characterising glaciated continental margins and the hazards associated with these settings.
  • Understand the significance of sea ice in the Arctic and Southern oceans.
  • Appreciate the distinctive differences between the physical systems operating in the Arctic and Southern oceans.

Through attending the lectures and fieldwork and through completing the assessments, you will work towards developing the following graduate attributes:

  • spatial analysis skills
  • general analytical skills
  • report writing skills
  • fieldwork skills
  • problem solving (linking theory to practice)
  • developing your own ideas with confidence
  • being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems
  • task management (identifying key objectives, setting clearly defined goals, developing strategies to ensure individual success)
  • time management (managing time effectively)

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by staff, such as work on glaciation (Scourse) and dynamical oceanography (Sheen). Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the field component.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Provide an assessment of how glaciers and ice sheets develop and flow
  • 2. Relate glacier physics to processes of erosion, sediment entrainment, transport and deposition (both on land and in the ocean)
  • 3. Describe the different forms of ice found in or in contact with oceanic waters
  • 4. Identify the most significant physical, biological and biogeochemical differences characterising cryosphere-hydrosphere interactions in the Arctic and the Southern oceans
  • 5. Identify the critical role that glaciers, ice sheets and sea ice play in the global climate system, both as active agents of change and as archives of past change
  • 6. Solve simple calculations relating to glacier dynamics and the physical oceanography of the high latitudes
  • 7. Manipulate and use key mathematical formulae relating to the physics of glaciers and dynamical oceanography

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 8. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of geography
  • 9. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 10. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems within geography
  • 11. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis and enquiry within geography
  • 12. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of geography with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 13. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 14. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the indeed audience.
  • 15. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Glaciology: glaciers on the earth’s surface; scale and forms. Ice accumulation and ablation; glacier mass balance. Glacier thermal regime. Pressure melting. The driving stress equation and Glen Flow Law. Ice flow/movement. Processes of glacial erosion, sediment entrainment/transport and deposition on land and in the ocean.
  • Ice sheets as archives of past climate change. Ice core records.
  • Control of sea-level by glaciers. The glacio-eustatic mechanism, glacio-hydro-isostasy, ice-water gravitational attraction. Sea-level fingerprinting.
  • High latitude physical oceanography: the generation of deep-cold, bottom water masses (NADW, AABW) and their influence on Northern Atlantic, Southern Ocean and the general circulation of the oceans. The circulation of the Southern, Arctic and North Atlantic oceans.
  • Terrestrial ice in the ocean: ice shelves, ice tongues, icebergs and their role in deposition and sediment reworking. Tidewater glaciers and fjords. Grounding line fans, glacial debris flows, trough mouth fans, slumps and slides. Glacial geology of the Polar North Atlantic. Icebergs and iceberg scour. Ecology and palaeoecology of glacimarine environments. Criteria used to identify glacimarine environments. Ice-rafted detritus in deep marine sediments.

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 (18 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching16Fieldtrip to North Wales (This fieldtrip may have to be moved online/replaced in the event of continued COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing rules)
Guided independent study116Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
In-class MCQ quizzes2 hours total1-5, 13-15Oral feedback in class

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
Field report (in the event of the cancellation of this fieldtrip due to COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing measures a replacement assessment of identical weighting and length based on the replacement activity will be set)502000 words1-15Written and oral
Essay501500 words1-15Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Field reportField report1-15August ref/def
EssayEssay1-15August ref/def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certified reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally either be deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as 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 resubmit further assessments as required. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Alley, R.B. 2000. The Two-Mile Time Machine. Princeton University Press.
  • Barry, R.G. & Gan, T.Y. 2011. The Global Cryosphere: Past, Present and Future. Cambridge University Press.
  • Benn, D.I. & Evans, D.J.A. 2010. 3rd Edition. Glaciers and glaciation. Hodder Education.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Glaciology, ice sheets, glaciers, climate, sea level, ocean circulation, sea ice, ice shelves, icebergs, sediments, geomorphology, ice cores, Polar North Atlantic, geohazards, Antarctica, Arctic, Greenland, glaciation, North Wales

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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