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Unit information: Fundamentals of Modern Glaciology in 2018/19

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Unit name Fundamentals of Modern Glaciology
Unit code GEOG20004
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Tranter
Open unit status Not open

All units in Single Honours Geography Year 1



School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


This unit has three aims. The first is to provide students with a clear understanding of the fundamental principles of modern physical glaciology. Students will learn about the physical relationships between glacier size, climate and climate change; glacier motion and its environmental controls; the functioning of glaciers as dynamic hydrological systems; certain field techniques employed in glaciological investigations; and contemporary research issues in glaciology. The second is to introduce the principles ways in which solute is transported into, through and from glaciated catchments via different types of glaciers, varying in size, location and basal thermal regime. Students will also become conversant with elementary aquatic geochemistry, and understand the first order controls on the pH and Eh of glacial melt waters and the importance of carbonate equilibria in controlling many aspects of glacial meltwater geochemistry. The third aim is to introduce students to the microbiology of the cryosphere. Students will gain an appreciation of the types of microbes that colonise the different types of habitats contained within the cryosphere, and the microbiological processes they undertake and how they influence the chemistry of meltwater.

Structure and content (including sub-elements)

  1. Glacier and ice sheet formation, mass balance and climate
  2. Glacier motion: internal ice deformation, basal sliding, deforming beds
  3. Glacier hydrology: surface and subglacial hydrology
  4. Glacier erosion: processes, models and landforms
  5. Microbes and cryospheric habitats.
  6. Geochemical weathering.
  7. Carbonate equilibria.
  8. Controls on pH and Eh.
  9. Microbial processes in the cryosphere.

In summary, the aims of this Unit are:

  • To provide students with a sound understanding of the fundamental principles of modern glaciology and its study.
  • To introduce the principles ways in which solute is transported into, though and from glaciated catchments via the different configurations of glacier drainage systems.
  • To introduce students to the microbiology of the cryosphere.

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  1. Understand the flow and form of glaciers and ice sheets
  2. Calculate the flow of ice (and derive equations to perform such calculations)
  3. Appreciate how water runs off (and under) a glacier
  4. Evaluate the hydrochemistry of glacier meltwater
  5. Understand basic microbial processes in the crysophere
  6. Be familiar with issues in glaciological research (past and present)
  7. Appreciate how fieldwork and models contribute to glaciological knowledge

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • numeracy
  • geochemical calculations
  • research design and techniques

Teaching details

20 x 1 hour lectures

2 x 1 hour tutorial

Assessment Details

3-hour Exam paper (80%)

Problem sheet (20%)

Both assessments test all of the ILOs.

Percentage of the unit that is coursework: 20%

Percentage of overall unit mark involving group work: 0%

Reading and References

Recommended Reading:

  1. Benn, D.I, and Evans, D.J.A. (1998) Glaciers and glaciation, Arnold.
  2. Drever, J.I. (1997) The Geochemistry of Natural Waters, Prentice Hall.
  3. Drewry, D. (1986) Glacial Geologic Processes, Arnold.
  4. Knight, P. (Ed.) (2006) Glacier Science and Environmental Change, Blackwell.
  5. Hogg, S. (2005) Essential Microbiology, Wiley.
  6. Paterson, W.S.B. (1969) The Physics of Glaciers, Pergamon Press.