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Unit information: Catchment Science: Hydrology, Ecology and Management in 2015/16

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Unit name Catchment Science: Hydrology, Ecology and Management
Unit code GEOG30013
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Johnes
Open unit status Not open

There are no pre-requisites but students will be offered a revision lecture in the first week to cover material from GEOG25050 Hydrosphere 2 that is relevant, as well as additional reading.


Available to year-three Geography and year- four Geography with Study Aboard/Continental Europe students only.

School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

Aquatic Environments are subject to immense pressures as a result of human activity. Located at the base of catchment systems, all activities in the catchment will ultimately have an impact on waters draining from the land to the water body, whether it is a small pond, a stream, river, estuary or the open ocean. This unit covers the physical, chemical and ecological processes controls on the function of the hydrosphere, and the response of catchments to environmental change. It consists of 2 separate but complementary elements. These are:

Element 1 : Hydrology and Land Surface Processes

This looks at the link between hydrological processes and environmental change via geomorphic and biogeochemical processes. An overarching aim of this element is to link hydrology to land-surface processes, including erosion and biogeochemical fluxes, and discuss these processes in relation to the other part of the unit and other units in the syllabus (i.e. environmental change).

In particular, you will study the ways in which these processes operate in different environments (drylands, temperate humid, agricultural) and you will be looking at how processes and outcomes differ in these settings.

Lecture outline:

  1. The importance of water in the landscape
  2. Flow pathways and nutrient fluxes
  3. Global erosion: links between climate and erosion
  4. Tectonics, climate and erosion
  6. Drylands I: environmental context
  7. Drylands II: ecohydrology and environmental change
  9. Drylands III: hillslope and channel dynamics in dryland basins
  10. Drylands IV: morphological change and long-term evolution of dryland basins

Element 2: Aquatic Environments: from Source to Sea

In Element 2 you will focus on the processes which control the movement of water, sediment and chemical contaminants from land within a catchment to a water body and thence downstream from source to sea, drawing on topics and materials covered in Element 1. A series of topics will be covered including process controls on:

(1) Catchment biogeochemical function

(2) Nutrient cycling and transport instream

(3) Carbon flux from land to inland and coastal waters in peatland systems

(4) Acidification of upland and boreal waters and evidence for their recovery in recent years

(5) Sediment erosion and transport in agricultural catchments and impacts of fine sediment deposition in chalk streams, and

(6) Eutrophication of inland and coastal waters and impacts on ecosystem and human health.

Disruption of the global biogeochemical cycles (C, N and P) and the impacts of this disruption on aquatic ecosystems will form an overarching

theme for this element.

Statement of unit aims

The objective of this unit is for students to gain an insight into how aquatic environments ‘work’, and how they are likely to respond to major drivers of environmental change. The specific aims are for students to gain an understanding of:

  • the links and feedbacks between the processes (hydrological, geomorphological and biogeochemical) that control the function of waterbodies and their catchments in different environments
  • the likely response of inland and coastal waters to global environmental change
  • the use of simulation models to support scientific research into the likely future responses of waters to global environmental change
  • the problems associated with data collection, and the calibration and validation of spatially distributed catchment models to support research, policy and management

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should have:

  • an in-depth understanding of the links between hydrology and land surface processes in catchments
  • an appreciation of the interplay between the different processes (hydrological, geomorphological and biogeochemical) and the implications of this interplay for catchment form and function in differing environments
  • the ability to critically evaluate information derived from diverse sources and identify areas of scientific uncertainty in catchment hydrology
  • the ability to distill information and synthesise complex concepts in a concise, simple manner targeted to diverse audiences

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Technical mathematical, chemical and ecological vocabulary
  • Analytical skills and problem solving
  • Reasoning and logic
  • Independent research
  • Communication skills

Teaching Information

Lectures, seminars, computing practical and a poster symposium.

Assessment Information

Assessment for this Unit comprises two 1000 word briefing notes aimed at a busy environmental professional (each 25% of the unit) and an unseen examination (the remaining 50% of the unit).

Students will be provided with a list of 10 topics for each Element of the Unit, and must select one topic from each element for the briefing notes. The work will be undertaken as an independent assessment.

A detailed marking scheme for the briefing notes will be provided to the students at the commencement of the Unit, highlighting the specific attributes required and marks available for each component of the briefing notes.

Reading and References

Reading is mainly based on journal articles and specific reading lists will be given with each lecture.