Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Geography


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham




  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Mediterranean environments are particularly sensitive to changes in climate and other types of anthropogenic disturbances, often leading to irreversible land degradation. The aim of this field trip module is to provide advanced-level theoretical and practical training in the understanding of environmental processes from integrated systems and process-based modelling perspectives in Mediterranean environments, which are particularly relevant to the pervasive problem of land degradation. Students will engage in detailed environmental analyses from conceptual and applied perspectives that integrate process-based models and demonstrate the value of interdisciplinary perspectives for the understanding of environmental change. As a Level 3 module, it is intended to build upon basic grounding in relevant substantive material from Years 1 and 2, but to expand and apply this knowledge through direct experience of, and undertaking, investigation in a Mediterranean environment. The field trip location in Mallorca is a world-class place to look at the outlined issues, and is designed to inspire the next generation of researchers on the topic of environmental change and land degradation.


  • Through this field-based module, students will learn about the physical processes associated with land degradation, and build upon their background in physical geography to explore the roles of different processes – including hydrology, geomorphology, ecology and biogeochemistry – within a systems perspective.
  • Students will attend pre-field trip lectures in which they will receive an essential grounding in key environmental processes and their interactions and will learn about state-of-the-art empirical and environmental modelling approaches to studying these processes.
  • Through small-group activities in the field, students will become experienced in the advanced collection of field data (for example data on vegetation characteristics and soil properties), and applying a range of approaches to the study of environmental questions, including the tight interface between empirical approaches and environmental modelling, using open-source tools
  • Students will explore thematic areas in detail that include resilience and self-organization in Mediterranean environments, understanding the interplay between short- and long-range processes on the emergence of patterns in Mediterranean environments, how these patterns can be used as indicators of land degradation, the cascading effects of wildfire, and carbon budgeting within an ecogeomorphic framework.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how interconnected systems work, including how interacting parts of the environment combine in ways that are not straightforwardly predictable
  • Comprehend the Mediterranean environment as an interconnected system, including the interactions between climate, vegetation, geology, and surface processes
  • Show how an understanding of how concepts of resilience and sustainability can be used to frame the human settlement of Mediterranean environments, with a specific focus on issues of land degradation
  • Understand how computer modelling and field data are integrated to be able to understand interconnected systems in detail across a range of space and time scales
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
  • Relate current literature on complex systems and Mediterranean environments to specific situations and case studies
  • Design and implement a field data-collection project
  • Use the data collected to parameterize and run an appropriate computer model
  • Carry out statistical analyses of results to support a critical assessment of the system and support decision-making to mitigate human impacts on the landscape
  • Document data collected and make it available for others using best practices in open data and open source approaches
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students will be able to:
  • Design a collaborative research project
  • Solve problems and the ability to make reasoned decisions
  • Perform interpretations explained in lectures / practicals and extract patterns from environmental data collected in the field
  • Undertake critical analysis and interpretation of data and text
  • Apply numerical and computational skills to complex datasets
  • Present logical written and oral arguments
  • Manage time and organise work effectively

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Briefing lectures before the field trip will be used to introduce key concepts and specific background to the environment to be investigated. Lectures will also be the basis for the small-group discussions used to formulate the field projects, and gain the necessary understanding of the methods to be used. The small-group discussions will be used to guide the development of realistic projects, using the synthesis of complex literature to develop ideas at the frontier of current research.
  • The field trip will be used to develop a more in-depth understanding of core concepts and environmental processes through field-based “lectures” and discussions. Students will carry out group project work to collect relevant data and start to process and analyze them. Training on best practices in field work will be provided, including notetaking as the basis for the reproducibility of data, advanced measurement techniques, and field mapping of the landscape as well as more detailed mapping of surface biotic and abiotic characteristics relevant to environmental modelling. Practical applications of the understanding of decision-making processes and management of land degradation will also be discussed.
  • Data collected will be analyzed in timetabled computer laboratory sessions during Term 1 of Level 3, and will be used to parameterize state-of-the-art models for the understanding of interconnected environmental processes. Guidance will be given on how to link the measurements and modelling to theory and research questions, and on how to produce an open data repository with appropriately structured metadata. The repository and supporting materials will be assessed as a group, and each student will produce an independent report.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 4 All in June following L2 exams 1.5 hours 6
Small-group work discussions 4 All in June following L2 exams 0.5 hours 2
Fieldwork 1 9 days 7 hours (per day) 63
Practicals / computer labs 6 Term 1 2 hours 12
Tutorials 2 1 x Term 1 and 1 x Term 2 1 hour 2
Seminar: poster presentations 1 Term 2 3 hours 3
Preparation and Reading 112
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Individual Project Report Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Individual Project Report 7 x A4 sides 100%
Component: Group Poster Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Group poster 100%
Component: Group submission Component Weighting: 10%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Group submission of an open-source data repository and appropriate metadata 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment will be provided in the following ways: On the initial project outline. During the field course. During follow-up practical classes. Formative feedback is also provided on the oral presentation of the poster.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University