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Unit information: Sea Level past, present and future in 2020/21

Unit name Sea Level past, present and future
Unit code GEOG30008
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Bingham
Open unit status Not open

GEOG20003 The Earth System



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This new unit will combine two elements: an existing 10-lecture component from GEOG35200 on the future contribution of ice sheets to sea level change and existing (although currently not presented) material on past fluctuations in sea level. It is anticipated that the unit will comprise up to ~20 lectures and a computer-based practical. A report based on the latter will comprise 33% of the unit’s assessment, while the remainder will come from a two-hour unseen paper with a section from each part of the unit (two essay answers each comprising 33%).

The unit will review the evidence for past fluctuations in sea level, as well as the phenomena that this evidence has revealed such as the existence of meltwater events and potential instability of the ice sheets. It will then go on to look at evidence for recent change in the ice sheets and glaciers of the world, as well as the processes thought to be responsible. Finally, both the geological and contemporary evidence will be assessed within the context of the recent IPCC assessment report.

Although the unit is offered without prerequisite, some knowledge of glaciological processes is desirable such as is provided in GEOG25040. Support in the form of a small number of preliminary revision lectures and additional reading will be offered to students that have not done GEOG25040.

1. Revision - flow physics

2. Revision – surface mass budget

Element one: Past fluctuations in sea level

  1. Geological evidence of sea level - geomorphology
  2. Geological evidence of sea level – isotopes
  3. Sea level through glacial-interglacial cycles
  4. Rapid fluctuations in sea level – meltwater events
  5. Interglacials and warm periods
  6. Isostasy and eustasy

Element two: Present and future sea level

  1. Global sea level projections
  2. Observations of sea level
  3. Regional patterns of sea level change
  4. Practical on simple models of sea level change
  5. Satellite measurement of ice sheet mass budget
  6. Models of surface mass budget
  7. Greenland ice sheet - melt water and basal lubrication
  8. Greenland ice sheet - calving
  9. Antarctic ice sheet – grounding line migration
  10. Antarctic ice sheet – ocean interactions
  11. The IPCC assessment
  1. Revision lecture (both elements)

Intended learning outcomes

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Numeracy
  • Geochemical calculations
  • Research design and techniques
  • Analytical skills and problem solving
  • Computer literacy.
  • Critical evaluation of literary sources

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 Report and Synthesis 2000-word essay (50%)

End of unit 2000-word essay (50%)

Reading and References

Price, S. F., A. J. Payne, I. M. Howat, and B. E. Smith (2011), Committed sea-level rise for the next century from Greenland ice sheet dynamics during the past decade, P Natl Acad Sci USA, 108(22), 8978-8983.

Pritchard, H. D., R. J. Arthern, D. G. Vaughan, and L. A. Edwards (2009), Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, Nature, 461(7266), 971-975.

Pritchard, H. D., R. J. Arthern, D. G. Vaughan, and L. A. Edwards (2009), Extensive dynamic thinning on the margins of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, Nature, 461(7266), 971-975