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Unit information: Fundamentals of Modern Glaciology in 2021/22

Unit name Fundamentals of Modern Glaciology
Unit code GEOG20004
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Dr. Ros Death
Open unit status Not open

GEOG10003 Key Concepts in Human and Physical Geography and GEOG10002 Geographical History, Thought and Practices



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

This unit has three aims. The first is to provide students with a clear understanding of the fundamental principles of modern physical glaciology. Students will learn about the physical relationships between glacier size, climate and climate change; glacier motion and its environmental controls; the functioning of glaciers as dynamic hydrological systems; certain field techniques employed in glaciological investigations; and contemporary research issues in glaciology. The second is to introduce the principles ways in which solute is transported into, through and from glaciated catchments via different types of glaciers, varying in size, location and basal thermal regime. Students will also become conversant with elementary aquatic geochemistry, and understand the first order controls on the pH and Eh of glacial melt waters and the importance of carbonate equilibria in controlling many aspects of glacial meltwater geochemistry. The third aim is to introduce students to the microbiology of the cryosphere. Students will gain an appreciation of the types of microbes that colonise the different types of habitats contained within the cryosphere, and the microbiological processes they undertake and how they influence the chemistry of meltwater.

Structure and content (including sub-elements)

  1. Glacier and ice sheet formation, mass balance and climate
  2. Glacier motion: internal ice deformation, basal sliding, deforming beds
  3. Glacier hydrology: surface and subglacial hydrology
  4. Glacier erosion: processes, models and landforms
  5. Microbes and cryospheric habitats.
  6. Geochemical weathering.
  7. Carbonate equilibria.
  8. Controls on pH and Eh.
  9. Microbial processes in the cryosphere.

In summary, the aims of this Unit are:

  • To provide students with a sound understanding of the fundamental principles of modern glaciology and its study.
  • To introduce the principles ways in which solute is transported into, though and from glaciated catchments via the different configurations of glacier drainage systems.
  • To introduce students to the microbiology of the cryosphere.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. Understand the flow and form of glaciers and ice sheets
  2. Calculate the flow of ice (and derive equations to perform such calculations)
  3. Appreciate how water runs off (and under) a glacier
  4. Evaluate the hydrochemistry of glacier meltwater
  5. Understand basic microbial processes in the crysophere
  6. Be familiar with issues in glaciological research (past and present)
  7. Appreciate how fieldwork and models contribute to glaciological knowledge

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • numeracy
  • geochemical calculations
  • research design and techniques

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • synchronous group workshops, seminars, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous individual activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace

Assessment Information

Individual executive summary write up (40%)

End of unit take-home assessment (60%)

Both assessments test all of the ILOs.

Percentage of the unit that is coursework: 100%

Percentage of overall unit mark involving group work: 0%


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. GEOG20004).

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.