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MSc Pollution & Environmental Control

Year of entry: 2022

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Course unit details:
Human Impacts on the Biosphere

Course unit fact file
Unit code EART62051
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Available as a free choice unit? No



This unit will examine how humans cause damage and change to the biosphere through an examination of key topics including: (1) environmental impact of resource extraction and use, (2) environmental impact of agriculture, (3) the effect of urbanisation on water resources, and (4) the environmental impact of air pollution from road transport. As well as examining the environmental consequences of these anthropogenic activities, the unit will also examine mitigation and management strategies, including monitoring and remediation, including bioremediation.

The course will be delivered through lectures and seminar/practice sessions where more detailed case studies and data of the key topics will be provided and discussed, including through the use of research papers.

This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.


  The aim of this unit is to:


• Provide a knowledge and understanding of how human activities affect the biosphere through an examination of the impact of key anthropogenic stressors arising from resource exploitation and use, agriculture and urbanisation on selected ecosystems and biomes.


• Provide awareness and preparation for using methods and approaches - from molecular to community level - used in the assessment and prediction of human impacts on ecosystems.



Learning outcomes



On the successful completion of the course, students will be able to:


Explain the impact of natural resource exploitation and pollution on populations and communities through the study of important human activities


Describe methods and approaches used in the assessment and prediction of anthropogenic impacts on key ecosystems and biomes


Explain the importance of connecting and integrating knowledge regarding human impacts, including on the whole biosphere


Evaluate the use of field and laboratory studies in understanding and solving environmental problems arising from human activities


Appraise and discuss research literature regarding contemporary and controversial issues related to human impacts on the environment



    Lectures (2x 1h) and seminar sessions (1x 1h) each week – 4 h contact time

    (Order of content may be subject to change)


    Week 1: Introduction. Why are human impacts so devastating? Overview of human impacts; standards and guidelines. Consultancy assessments. Introduction to unit assessment process and expectations


    Week 2: Environmental impacts of agriculture. A short history of agriculture and its impacts on what the earth looks like; impacts on biodiversity through habitat loss and pesticides; Nitrogen enrichment, salinisation, and soil degradation


    Week 3: Environmental impacts of agriculture. Greenhouse gas emissions – mechanisms and mitigation; Sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services


    Week 4: Environmental impact of resource extraction and use. Sources of metal and radionuclide pollution from extraction, refining and use; behaviour and mobilisation in soil and running water


    Week 5: Environmental impact of resource extraction and use. Impacts of toxic metals and radionuclides on terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems


    Week 6: Environmental impact of resource extraction and use. Bioaccumulation and toxicity of metals into the food chain via plants and phytoplankton; risks of food chain transfer


    Week 7: Environmental impact of resource extraction and use. Bioremediation of metal-contaminated land; evaluation of the use and success of microbes and plants for metal remediation. Treatment and bioremediation of freshwater – physical, chemical and biological approaches with particular reference to mine drainage


    Week 8: Urbanisation. Introduction: Urbanisation and impact on freshwater quality and biodiversity. Impact of sewage pollution on river ecology, water quality; spatial and temporal changes


    Week 9: Urbanisation. Managing water resources: catchment management and water quality standards. Challenges and solutions to urban biodiversity


    Week 10: Urbanisation. Emerging pollutants from urban environments: plastics and nanomaterials; ecological impacts; monitoring and mitigation


    Week 11: Environmental impact of air pollution from road transport. Introduction: sources, monitoring and critical loads of transport pollution in the UK; Impact of nitrogen air pollution on ecosystems and vegetation; Is ozone reducing our food supply?


    Week 12: Future challenges and outcomes. Population pressure and resource utilization; sustainable consumption; what is the future?


    Teaching and learning methods

    The unit will be delivered through 24 lectures that will be delivered 2 per week during the 12-week Semester. The lectures will provide background content of core information. These lectures will also be available as podcasts of lectures and PowerPoint presentations on Blackboard alongside other online resources to supplement the lectures, including additional reading material links (e-books, journal reviews and journal research papers).

    Formative assessment questions for each of the key topics will allow the students to test their understanding of the lecture content as they progress during the semester.

    The lecture material will be supplemented by weekly seminar and practice sessions (2 h per week). These sessions will include group discussions where content and case studies from the week’s lectures will be discussed. This will allow the students to reinforce learning from the lecture content and the discussion will also focus on research methods used in these studies.

    Also included in these sessions will be group-based data analysis leading to a Consultancy style presentation report. For this activity the students are provided with data from long-term monitoring of pollution and remediation of Salford Quays. The students are required to appropriately analyse and interpret selected data, provide conclusions and present information in a consultancy style group presentation, which will be assessed. The students will have an opportunity to give a practice (formative) group analysis and presentation on a different set of data earlier in the Semester.

    Summative assessment on the core lecture content is by a single on-line open book examination using questions in the same style as the formative tests. A Q&A session will be held towards the end of the semester to help the students prepare for the final summative assessment.


    Assessment methods

    Method Weight
    Other 80%
    Oral assessment/presentation 20%

    Feedback methods


    Assessment type

    % Weighting within unit

    Hand out and hand in dates



    How, when and what feedback is provided

    ILO tested


    Oral (group)

    (Data analysis consultancy style presentation)


    Week 9

    15 min

    Informal feedback given after presentation

    Written feedback after marking (released Week 12)

    1 - 4



    Oral (group)

    (Data analysis consultancy style presentation)


    Week 6

    15 min

    Feedback given after presentation

    1 - 4

    Formative Online tests




    5 – 30 min

    On-line (Immediately)

    1 - 5

    Online test



    2 hours

    On-line (within 14 days)

    1 - 5


    Recommended reading


    Mostly primary research literature based with articles and links provided on Blackboard. The following are also recommended.


    •           Williams, A E, Waterfall, R J, White, K N & Hendry, K (2010) Manchester Ship Canal and Salford Quays: industrial legacy and ecological restoration. In: Ecology of Industrial Pollution (ed: Batty, L C and Hallberg, K B). Cambridge University Press, 276-308.

    •           Paul, M.J. and Meyer, J.L. (2001) Streams in an urban landscape. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 32, 333-365.

    •           Wilkiins et al (2012) How is ozone pollution reducing our food supply? J. Exp. Bot.63 (2): 527-536.

    •           Lee et al (2012) Effects of roads on adjacent plant community composition and ecosystem function: An example from three calcareous ecosystems Environmental Pollution 163 (2012) 273e280

    •           Peralta-Videa JR, Lopez ML, Narayan M, Saupe G, Gardea-Torresdey J. (2009) The biochemistry of environmental heavy metal uptake by plants: implications for the food chain. Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 41(8-9):1665-77

    •           Conesa HM, Evangelou MW, Robinson BH, Schulin R. (2012) A critical view of current state of phytotechnologies to remediate soils: still a promising tool? Scientific World Journal. 2012:173829

    •           Tscharntke T, Clough Y, Wanger TC, Jackson L, Motzke I, Perfecto I, Vandermeer J, Whitbread A. 2012. Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification. Biological Conservation 151(1): 53-59.

    Study hours

    Scheduled activity hours
    Lectures 24
    Practical classes & workshops 24
    Independent study hours
    Independent study 102

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    Jon Pittman Unit coordinator

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