BA Geography with International Study

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Our Frozen Planet

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG30222
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The cryosphere, including glaciers, ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice, is a fascinating part of Earth's climate system. Ice masses are sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation over a range of timescales and offer some of the most visible signs of past and present climate change. Studying ice on Earth can provide an insight into interactions between physical, biological and (increasingly) human environments. Our Frozen Planet provides an introduction to the cryosphere and its response to past, present and future climate change. The 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

The course is delivered through lectures, supported by a series of seminars. Independent reading and study is essential. Reading lists and links to electronic resources will be provided on Blackboard. You are encouraged to use the discussion forum on Blackboard to discuss common questions and ideas about the course and share useful resources.

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

Coursework      (formative: 0%; first assessment: 40%; second assessment: 60%)

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

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 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Christopher Darvill Unit coordinator

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