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Unit information: Ice and Ocean in the Global Carbon Cycle in 2021/22

Unit name Ice and Ocean in the Global Carbon Cycle
Unit code GEOG30014
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Ros Death
Open unit status Not open

There are no pre-requisites. Students will find completion of GEOG20003 The Earth System and GEOG20004 Fundamentals of Modern Glaciology useful.



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The unit aims to give students a full understanding of the major biogeochemical processes that prevail in ice sheets and oceans, with an emphasis on wider global impacts. The series of lectures, seminars and computer- based practicals aims to link global biogeochemical cycles within ice to downstream impacts on surface oceans and how these additional nutrient inputs cycle through the surface waters to the bottom of the oceans. A particular focus will be the importance of glacier-sourced nutrients on marine productivity and biodiversity.

The initial part of the course will introduce the main elemental cycles of carbon, phosphate, nitrogen, oxygen, silica and iron within the cryosphere and the Oceans, and their relationship to climate in the present, as well as investigating the past and future projections. The lecture series will include topics such as the impact of future climate change on ice sheet delivery of nutrients to the oceans, alongside implications of climate warming for ice-sheet ecosystems and ocean biogeochemical cycles. It will consider time periods where the ice sheets were much more extensive than present day and the associated feedbacks on the climate system through the changes in the cycling of nutrients from the cryosphere to the ocean. Future projections of a warming world will be investigated using past analogues of warm periods where the cycling of carbon, oxygen, phosphate and nitrogen within the ocean will be investigated with a focus on the adaption or loss of ecosystems to these biogeochemical changes.

The unit will conclude with application of an earth system model which will allow the investigation of the sensitivity of ocean’s biogeochemistry to changes in the glacial inputs and the potential feedbacks to the climate system.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. Apply an earth systems science approach within an environmental context.
  2. Use an Earth system model to test our understanding of the processes that determine the sensitivity of the oceans to the export of glacially derived nutrients.
  3. Think critically and formulate ideas about the functioning of an environmental system using a numerical model and compare results to observations.
  4. Appreciate the limitations and assumptions made in inferring environmental processes from numerical modelling.
  5. Demonstrate an in depth understanding of hydrological biogeochemical and physical processes operating in a glacier system within ice sheets, together with interactions with other components of the Earth system.

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Numeracy
  • Geochemical calculations
  • Research design and techniques
  • Analytical skills and problem solving
  • Computer literacy.
  • Critical evaluation of literary sources

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
  • practicals; students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete practical work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information

Take-home assessment at the end of the teaching block (70%) [ILOs 1 and 3-5]

Project Report (30%) (circa. 2500 words or 3 sides of A4, 11-point Arial, single-spaced, 2cm margins) [ILOs 1-5]


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. GEOG30014).

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.