MSc Environmental Monitoring, Modelling and Reconstruction

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Our Frozen Planet

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG60222
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course covers topics such as the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets, mountain glaciers and sea ice, as well as techniques used to reconstruct past ice masses and monitor present change. Students will learn how the fate of ice on Earth is intrinsically linked to changes in the atmosphere and oceans, with implications for geomorphology, water resources, wildlife and sea-level rise.


  • To appreciate the importance of the cryosphere within the Earth’s climate system
  • To understand how ice masses respond to – and interact with – changes in climate
  • To consider the longer-term (Quaternary) context of current trends in the cryosphere
  • To critically assess the evidence for past, present and future cryosphere change

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching is carried out through a mixture of lectures, discussion, small group exercises, computer exercises, and online discussion.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the response of the cryosphere to changing climate
  • Demonstrate knowledge of how current trends in cryosphere change relate to past changes and future projections

Intellectual skills

  • Be able to explain how different parts of the cryosphere interact with climate and the environment
  • Provide critical insights into the methods used to reconstruct past ice masses and monitor current change

Practical skills

  • Use graphics to convey the core messages of complex scientific research
  • Work in groups to discuss and critique scientific literature
  • Use basic, open-source ice models to consider the relationship between ice masses and climate

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Convey information to different audiences, from public to specialist scientific
  • Condense key findings and approaches from high impact publications into short reports
  • Examine a broad scientific concept in detail and explain advances and limitations through a comprehensive review
  • Appreciate and question experts in cryospheric science

Assessment methods

‘State of Research’ in the style of a Science Review article, up to 3,000 words (100%).

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • Verbal feedback through discussion and interactive activities within lectures
  • Verbal feedback on any questions or issues through consultation hours
  • Online feedback via a Blackboard discussion board
  • Detailed written feedback on coursework on Blackboard within 15 working days of submission

Recommended reading

There is no set textbook for this course. To get a sense of the significance of this subject, students are encouraged to read the following:

The Royal Society: Climate Updates (2017) Pages 12-15 (but this short document is worth reading in its entirety)

Vaughan et al. (2013) Observations: Cryosphere. IPCC 5th Assessment, WG I (pick and choose sections to get a flavour of the research)

Masson-Delmotte et al. (2013) Information from Paleoclimate Archives. IPCC 5th Assessment, WG I (pick and choose sections to get a flavour of the research)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Christopher Darvill Unit coordinator

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