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Unit information: Air Water Fire Earth 301 in 2016/17

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Unit name Air Water Fire Earth 301
Unit code PHYS31010
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Dugdale
Open unit status Not open

Normally 120 credit points of level I physics units including PHYS21030.



School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science


An introduction to ecophysics. This unit applies the physics the students know at this point, to the broader issues involved with the environment. The aim is to give an outline of the physics within air and water in the environment and how a variety of phenomena arise therefrom. Applications will involve a broad-brush introduction to weather, to 'environmentally-friendly' power generation and to phenomena like flight, which are based on simple physics and take place within the air and water around us. A key skill which we hope will be developed is to consider rather complex systems from the environment around us, and extract the core elements of the science which underpin them.


To develop an understanding of the physics of air and water in the environment in three different contexts: globally as the physics of the atmosphere and oceans driven by solar heating and gravity, environmentally in their usefulness for renewable power generation without waste products, and operationally as fluid media in various applications.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of the unit the student should have knowledge and understanding of:

  • Some of the phenomena of the atmosphere, rivers and oceans - clouds, rain, lightning, lapse rates, tides, currents glaciers, bores, weather patterns and circulation, chaos, fractality, radiation, greenhouse effect, rainbows, glories, atmospheric optics.
  • Energy and waste balances in conventional power sources, heat engines, pollution, safety
  • Renewable sources- wind, wave, tide, geothermal
  • Energy storage issues- batteries, fuel cells, mechanical
  • Physics of air- inertia, viscosity, Reynolds' number, drag
  • Flight, engines, bubbles, balloons, foams
  • Pneumatics, hydraulics, pumps, vacuum cleaners, Archimedean screw

Teaching details

Lectures and problem classes.

Assessment Details

Written examination comprising 1 2-hour paper

Reading and References

  • Houghton Atmospheric Physics
  • Boeker and Van Grondelle Environmental Physics
  • Bloomfield How things work - the physics of everyday life