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Unit information: The Earth System in 2020/21

Unit name The Earth System
Unit code GEOG20003
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Dan Lunt
Open unit status Not open

GEOG10003 Key Concepts in Human and Physical Geography



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit is concerned with understanding the components of the large-scale climate system: atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere, and the feedbacks and interactions between the systems. Through a series of lectures and practicals, the students will investigate the processes that influence the structure of each sphere of the climate system, and how they interact. The course will also provide an introduction to how and why we use climate models to inform our understanding of the climate system.

Aims: To introduce students to study of the mechanisms of natural climate and environmental variability, through an 'Earth System Science' approach, which stresses the complex interactions between the oceans atmosphere, ice sheets; biosphere, and how and why scientists model the climate system

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. outline the major inter-connectivity and feedbacks between the major components of the global Earth System as they relate to global climate change
  2. develop a critical understanding of methods used to model the climate system

Teaching details

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 Details

Practical assessment: design a climate model (50% of total).

72-hour take-home assessment at the end of the unit (50% of total)

Both assessments test all of the ILOs.

Reading and References

Essential reading:

  1. McGuffie K. and Henderson-Sellers A. (2005). A Climate Modelling Primer. 3rd Ed. Wiley.
  2. Kump L.R., Kasting J.F., Crane R.G. (2013). The Earth system: an introduction to Earth systems science. 2nd Ed.Prentice Hall.
  3. Ruddiman W.F (2013). Earth’s climate : past and future. W.H. Freeman and Company (3rd edition).