BSc Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Hydrology and Catchment Systems

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG20402
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


River catchments represent a fundamental component of our landscapes. The environmental and hydrological processes which operate in river catchments influence important ecosystem services such as water supply, the provision of high water quality, and high (flood) and low flow regulation. The effective management of these systems is dependent on our scientific understanding of these processes and their dynamics. This course covers the key processes controlling catchment hydrology and water quality, and introduces key principles for monitoring and managing catchment systems.


·         To develop students’ understanding of river catchment processes.

·         To acquaint students with the practical methods employed to evaluate water quality and quantity in hydrological systems.

·         To develop an understanding of the causes and effects of water pollution.

·         To describe and explain the strategies used to manage river catchment systems.

·         To prepare students to undertake an investigation involving river catchment and hydrological processes. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course unit, you should have gained:

·         Appreciation of the dynamic nature of river catchment hydrology and hydro-chemistry.

·         The ability to describe and explain the interactions among the components of the hydrological cycle.

·         The ability to describe and explain the major types and effects of water pollution.

·         Appreciation of the key pathways for water and pollutants in river systems.

·         Understanding of the range of methods employed by catchment researchers and managers to evaluate hydrological processes and water quality.

·         Critical scientific insight into contemporary issues of water management in river catchments.


Each week there will be a 2-hour lecture on a key topic, plus a seminar, usually in the form of a lab- or computer- based practical session. Topics include:

  • Measuring and monitoring catchment systems
  • Runoff production and river discharge
  • Flooding 
  • Water quality: solutes and sediments
  • Catchment management  

Teaching and learning methods

The course is delivered through a range of classes including lecture classes with student interaction, seminars, and computer-based and laboratory-based practical classes. Students are expected to read widely to support these classes and undertake the support activities indicated for each class. Learning will be supported via the course Blackboard site.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

During this unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following abilities and skills:

  • Practical skills for evaluating river catchment processes including laboratory skills and the ability to manipulate and analyse environmental datasets.
  • Reading, learning and study skills.
  • Critically judging and evaluating scientific evidence.
  • Abstracting and synthesising ideas and information.
  • Developing a reasoned, well-structured argument in written form.

Assessment methods

The course will be assessed by a coursework task and an end-of-semester unseen exam.

Feedback methods

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

·         Written and verbal feedback on the coursework exercise

·         Written feedback on examination.

·         Verbal feedback through Q&A and discussion within classes.

·         Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours.


Recommended reading

·         Holden, J. (ed.) (2012). An Introduction to Physical Geography and the Environment. Harlow: Pearson. Second Edition. See Chapter 11 (Catchment Hydrology) pages 307-335.

·         Shaw, E.M., Beven, K.J., Chappell, N.A., Lamb, R. (2011) Hydrology in Practice. Spon.

·         Ward R.C. and Robinson, M. (2000) Principles of Hydrology. Fourth Edition. London  McGraw-Hill.

·         Davie, T. (2008) Fundamentals of Hydrology. Second Edition. Routledge: London and New York.


Key Journals:

Journal of Hydrology, Hydrology and Earth System Science, Journal of Environment Management, Environmental Science and Policy, Environmental Science and Technology, Environmental Pollution, Science of the Total Environment, Water Air and Soil Pollution.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Claire Goulsbra Unit coordinator

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