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 Location Durham
Tied to L702
Tied to L704
Tied to F800
Tied to F803
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 CFG0
Tied to FGC0
Tied to CFG1
Tied to CFG2




  • NONE

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • GEOG3501 Berlin: Field Research in a European Context; GEOG3581 Territory and Geopolitics; GEOG3491 Alpine Landscapes and Processes; GEOG3691 Iceland: Field Research in Glacial Environments; GEOG3971 Cape Town: Geographies of Energy Transition; GEOG3731 Dynamic Mountain Environments, GEOG3701 Mountain Hazards; GEOG3551 Chicago: Sites of Global Change


  • The aim of this module is to examine interactions between human and physical processes in the Arctic. On the one hand, political institutions, individual livelihoods, and economic development strategies are adapting to an Arctic environment that is increasingly accessible to outsiders. On the other hand, key elements of the Arctic environment are undergoing rapid change due to transformations wrought by human activity both within and beyond the region (e.g. permafrost degradation, reduction in sea ice and glaciers, etc.). This module joins perspectives from human and physical geography to interrogate the interface between these trends in social and environmental change.


  • Indicative topics to be covered include:
  • The Arctic Environment
  • Climate of the Arctic
  • Arctic biogeography
  • Permafrost
  • Arctic glaciers
  • The Arctic Ocean and sea ice
  • The palaeo-geography of the Arctic
  • Defining the Arctic
  • Determining the Arctic’s borders in space and time, from a human and physical perspective
  • Outsiders’ perspectives on Arctic barrenness and Arctic abundance
  • Arctic indigenous peoples
  • The Arctic as site of exploration and colonial expansion
  • Arctic identity in northern nation-states
  • The Arctic in the Cold War
  • Contemporary dynamics concerning population, resource extraction, economic development, urbanisation, regional autonomy, and regional integration
  • The Arctic amidst Climate Change
  • The ‘Arctic Amplification effect’ and ‘Global Warming’
  • Recent and future changes in Arctic ice (permafrost, glaciers, sea ice)
  • Future changes in Arctic environments
  • Governance in a Changing Arctic
  • The Arctic’s growing economic significance (e.g. oil, gas, shipping)
  • Indigenous rights and pan-Arctic solidarity
  • The Arctic Council and geopolitical tensions

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On completion of this module, students are expected to be able to:
  • Understand the present-day Arctic environment and demonstrate detailed knowledge of key changes that are occurring over a range of time-scales
  • Understand the relationship between the Arctic environment and ongoing efforts to foster and regulate economic development, state governance, and indigenous self-determination in the Arctic
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Comprehend and evaluate key issues impacting on Arctic environments from both a human and physical geography perspective, with a particular emphasis on recent and future climate change and how this may affect global systems (including climate, sea level, economic activity, migration patterns, geopolitical competition)
  • Understand fundamentals deployed in advocating, making, and implementing environmental policy
Key Skills:
  • Critical analysis and interpretation of data and text
  • Gain practical experience in researching, articulating, and negotiating the perspective of a political (state or non-state) organisation
  • Solving problems and making reasoned decisions
  • Develop team work skills at the interface between human and physical geography
  • Communicate effectively in writing and through discussions, debates and oral presentations
  • Identify, retrieve, sort, and exchange information from a wide range of sources

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

  • Lectures will introduce students to key topics in the human and physical geography of the Arctic, building the necessary foundation from which students can embark on independent reading and semi-independent study of the focus topic for the field trip. At the end of the lecture period, students will be tasked with writing an essay on one of a number of set questions
  • The September fieldtrip will consist of four components, including:
  • Organised tours and lectures that will introduce students to the economy and history of Tromsø and northern Norway, the workings of the Arctic Council, and the Arctic environment.
  • A field component in and around the Lyngen Alps and the border region between Norway and Finland that will involve observations and data collection of relevant processes in an Arctic glacial environment and consideration of geopolitical issues and borders
  • Independent research, using resources available to them in Tromsø, including the Arctic Council secretariat, consulates, advocacy organisation's, and business associations; secondary datasets pertaining to physical processes (e.g. climate, glacier, sea-ice, sea-level data, etc.); and data gathered during the human and physical geography field visits.
  • A mock Arctic Council meeting at which student groups will present their organisation or state’s position on the Arctic environmental issue in question and demonstrate their understanding through engagement with other student teams representing other constituencies. The topic, and the specific question to be addressed will draw on both human and physical geographic knowledge. Participation in this component will be assessed through two means: 1) a written draft declaration produced by each group that reflects the group’s position, its knowledge of the issue, and its understanding of both Arctic politics and the Arctic Council diplomatic environment; and 2) an assessment of the group’s presentation at the mock Arctic Council meeting
  • Following the end of the field trip, students will be tasked with writing individual policy memos on the same topic that was the focus of the mock Arctic Council meeting. Workshops will review findings from field work and prepare students for their policy memos.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 4 2 hours 8
Lecture (fieldtrip Health & Safety briefing) 1 2 hours 2
Fieldwork 1 8 days 8 hours 64
Post-fieldwork tutorials 2 2 hours 4
Reading and preparation 122
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 30%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay Max 4 sides A4 100%
Component: Draft declaration Component Weighting: 10%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Draft declaration (groupwork) Max 4 sides A4 100%
Component: Field presentation (Mock Arctic Council) Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Field group presentation (Mock Arctic Council) 20 minutes 100%
Component: Policy memo Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Policy memo Max 5 sides A4 100%

Formative Assessment:

During a lecture session, students will be given a quiz on the Arctic topics covered during the previous lectures and associated readings, and answers will be discussed in class. Results will serve to increase students’ awareness of gaps in their knowledge which can direct their efforts to improve performance on the summative components. Staff will also schedule one-on-one meetings on the fieldtrip when students can receive verbal feedback on their essay plans. Additionally, peer feedback during the debate portion of the presentation day– as one team rebuts the arguments made by another – will foster learning that can lead to improvement on summative policy memos. Further peer feedback takes place in the follow-up workshops and will further assist students in preparing their summative policy memos. Formal feedback on summative declarations and preparations will also serve as formative feedback for the final, policy memo, assessment

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