Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)


Department: Geography


Type Tied Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham
Tied to F800
Tied to F802
Tied to F803
Tied to F804
Tied to CFG0
Tied to FGC0
Tied to CFG1
Tied to CFG2
Tied to LA01
Tied to LA02
Tied to LMV0
Tied to LMV1
Tied to LMV2
Tied to LMVA
Tied to QRV0
Tied to QRVA
Tied to X1F8
Tied to X2F8
Tied to X3F8


  • Fieldwork experience at Level 2, via one (or more) of the following modules: GEOG2462 Scientific Research, GEOG2571 Global Environmental Change, GEOG2531 Glaciers and Glaciation


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules



  • The aim of this module is to provide advanced training in the collection and interpretation of field data in physical geography, related specifically to environmental processes in alpine landscapes. It is offered as a third year module so that students can follow up on the basic grounding in relevant substantive material from Years 1 and 2, but can develop and apply this understanding through detailed field-based investigation of a particular environment. The environments chosen reflect the research interests of the relevant teaching staff in Geography


  • This module is a field-based exploration of Earth surface processes, with a particular focus on alpine landscapes and environments. Our aim is to give students a unique experience of doing research in such an environment, as well as training in a wide range of relevant research skills
  • The module will begin with introductory lectures and preparation immediately after the Level 2 examinations in Term 3. This will prepare students for a field class which will be held in September
  • Students will go to Switzerland for a 9 day field trip, where they will learn about alpine landscapes and environmental processes in the field class location and implement the preparatory work undertaken in June
  • Example topics that may be covered include: fluvial and fluvio-glacial geomorphology (processes and reconstruction); fluvial sediment and solute transport; hillslope processes (landslides, debris flows, and rockfall); hazard mapping and assessment; paraglacial processes; palaeo-environmental change; relative and absolute dating techniques (e.g. lichenometry, dendrochronology, boulder weathering); vegetation succession in relation to glacier recession; river channel disturbance and its impact on vegetation succession; river management and hydro-electric power; effects of environmental conditions (altitude, aspect, soil development, substrate age) and environmental disturbance (mass movements, skiing, grazing) on vegetation communities; effects of disturbance on macroinvertebrate populations and diversity
  • Students will undertake their project work in small groups, and will have some autonomy in choosing the topics that they address. The field class will provide them with data and observations that they will explore during Level 3, with support on data handling, analysis, and interpretation during specially-designed computer-based sessions. This will lead towards a final report and a group poster presentation at the end of the module

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The diversity of alpine environments, and the operation of, and inter-relationships between, physical and biological systems over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales
  • Patterns and processes of landscape and environmental change and their inter-relationships with human activities
  • The theory and application of quantitative analysis, visualisation techniques and other spatial techniques across a wide range of geographical contexts
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Plan, design, execute and report geographical research, both individually and as part of a team
  • Undertake effective laboratory and field work (with due regard for safety considerations and risk assessment)
  • Effective use of topography measurement techniques
  • Employ a variety of technical and laboratory-based methods for the analysis and presentation of spatial and environmental information (e.g. GIS, topographic analysis, aerial photograph interpretation, numerical modelling, water chemistry analysis, etc.)
  • Collect, interpret and synthesise different types of quantitative and qualitative geographical data
Key Skills:
  • Designing a collaborative research project
  • Critical analysis and interpretation of data and text
  • Solving problems and the ability to make reasoned decisions
  • Learning in familiar and unfamiliar situations
  • Effective communication in writing and through graphical (poster) presentations
  • Application of numerical and computational skills to data
  • Effective use of information technology (including use of spreadsheet, database, GIS, and word processing programmes; Internet and e-mail)
  • Identification, retrieval, and exchange of information using a wide range of sources
  • The ability to work effectively as part of a team
  • Effective time management and organisation

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

  • Briefing lectures and small group discussions before the field trip will help students to formulate the field-based project that they will undertake. This will require them to demonstrate that they can synthesise complex literature, and use it to formulate a realistic project. The outcome of this will be a literature review which will form part of (and will be assessed within) the individual report
  • The field trip will start with a skills day covering relevant methods such as topographic measurements
  • The field trip will be used to allow the students to acquire the data that they need to complete their report. In the field, students will be trained in good practice in field note taking and measurement techniques, which will be assessed in the submitted field notebook. They will also be given training in relevant environmental processes and the linkage to environmental change, under the key theme of using environmental records to infer both present and past processes. This will provide a theoretical underpinning for their project work and will be assessed in the individual report
  • The collected data will be analysed in a set of timetabled computer sessions during Term 1 of Level 3. This will allow the students to acquire an understanding of advanced data analysis, with guided support, and also in how to link empirical material to hypotheses and research questions. This will be assessed in the individual report as well as the group presentation

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures (Fieldtrip Preparation) 3 All in June following L2 exams 2 hours 6
Practicals 6 Term 1 1 hour 6
Fieldwork 1 9 days in total 7 hours per day 63
Group Meetings (Tutorials) 4 Dates chosen by students 30 minutes 2
Seminar - Poster Presentations 1 3 hours 3
Preparation and Reading 120
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Group Poster Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Group Poster 100%
Component: Report Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Report max 7 sides A4 100%

Formative Assessment:

Formative assessment will be provided in the following ways: on the initial project outline prepared in June, during the field course on student field notebooks, during follow-up practical classes and in group meetings. Formative feedback will also be given on the poster presentation – this can be used to help prepare the individual summative report.

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