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Unit information: Advanced Geophysical Fluid Dynamics in 2021/22

Unit name Advanced Geophysical Fluid Dynamics
Unit code EASCM0064
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2C (weeks 13 - 18)
Unit director Professor. Mader
Open unit status Not open

The material on the unit ranges from the descriptive to the theoretical. To cope with the theory, students also need to have a good understanding of basic physics concepts and be confident with algebra and basic calculus.

Students choosing this unit with a limited background in physics and maths need to be aware that successful completion will involve additional effort. In order to help such students, 3 tutorials are provided before the start of the unit to introduce the ideas of vector calculus that will be used in the unit.



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

This unit is aimed at developing a quantitative description and understanding of natural flows. This will involve a consideration of the flow of natural, multiphase materials in viscous, inviscid and turbulent flow.

The fluid mechanical principles of heat and mass transfer in fluid flows will be applied to understanding geophysical phenomena. The impact of the Earth's rotation on large-scale fluid motions will also be discussed.

Specific geophysical flows of interest will be: the flow of ice and magma; plate motions and the viscosity of the mantle; convective flows; flows in the Earth's atmosphere and oceans.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion students will be able to:

  • Explain and apply some of the basic laws governing geophysical fluid flows.
  • Understand the principles that govern different types of flow and the importance of flow regime.
  • Be able to explain the origin of turbulence and be able to distinguish in detail between viscous, inviscid and turbulent flow behaviours.
  • Understand the principles of dimensional analysis and be able to apply these to constrain the dynamics of geological flows.
  • Be able to explain the behaviours of Earth materials (e.g. air, water, magma, mud and various multiphase mixtures).
  • Understand the principles that govern natural convection including thermal, compositional and phase change effects, and apply this understanding to magma chambers and convection in the Sun's interior.
  • Understand the effect of the Earth's rotation on large scale fluid motions in the atmosphere and oceans and be able to explain the nature and origin of the Coriolis force.
  • Explain and apply standard measurement techniques for determining the viscosity of various fluids including multiphase mixtures and be able to interpret flow-curves.
  • Understand the principles of buoyancy-driven flows and be able to apply these to the dynamics of volcanic eruption columns, pyroclastic flows, and turbidity currents.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a combination of asynchronous and synchronous online materials and events and, if possible, synchronous face-to-face contact (depending on the circumstances).

  • lectures
  • office hours
  • directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory

Students who either begin or pursue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory work, or alternative activities, in person in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information

Assessment of learning/formative assessment:

  • Four practicals (examples classes and laboratory practicals) and homework exercises with worked solutions provided online.

Assessment of learning/summative assessment:

  • A seminar on a geophysical fluid dynamics topic (30%). Students will prepare and present a short (~10 minutes) seminar on a geophysical fluid dynamics topic of their choice (agreed with the Unit Coordinator).
  • End-of-unit 2-hour examination on lectured material and guided reading (70%)


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. EASCM0064).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.