Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module GEOL4217: Polar Quaternary Environmental Processes IV

Department: Earth Sciences

GEOL4217: Polar Quaternary Environmental Processes IV

Type Open Level 4 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • GEOL2171 Isotopes and Climate OR A level Chemistry (grade B or above) or equivalent qualification.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To use research-led teaching, including real-life data sets, to educate students about Antarctic and Arctic Quaternary environments.
  • To inform about the development of terrestrial Antarctic and Arctic cryosphere during the Quaternary, with emphasis on permafrost and glaciers.
  • To inform about the physical and chemical processes occurring in the terrestrial Arctic cryosphere, with emphasis on the carbon and nutrient cycles.


  • The Antarctic and Arctic in the Quaternary – research led history of the Antarctic and Arctic glacial and periglacial environment.
  • Glacier and Ice-Sheet formation.
  • Glacier hydrology.
  • Glacier biogeochemistry.
  • Impact of climate change on glacier biogeochemistry.
  • Permafrost formation.
  • Permafrost hydrology.
  • Permafrost biogeochemistry.
  • Impact of climate change on permafrost biogeochemistry.
  • Research frontiers – student-directed analysis and discussion of current research.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Through research-led learning students will develop a depth of knowledge and research skills in Quaternary history, glacial processes and permafrost processes and the impact of climate change on the Antarctic and Arctic terrestrial cryosphere. The module particularly emphasizes skills that are relevant to independent research and written communication, preparing students for future dissertation-style learning opportunities.
  • Students will use geochemical datasets to understand the impact of climate change on the cryosphere.
  • Students will use recent governmental reports (e.g., the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports) to understand the impact of climate change on the cryosphere.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Understanding geochemical datasets.
  • Quantitative understanding of the terrestrial Antarctic and Arctic carbon cycle.
  • Compiling information from a variety of sources to draw conclusions about a problem.
  • Evaluating and understanding the quality of data and research.
  • Making scientific posters.
Key Skills:
  • Inter-relation of different branches of science (geology, physics and chemistry)
  • Thinking on a nano- to global scale
  • Quantitative reasoning, especially regarding the impact of climate change
  • Reading Government reports about the impact of climate change on the Antarctic and Arctic
  • Writing summaries of key papers
  • Discovery, synthesis and understanding of information
  • Communication of novel findings to peers and end-users
  • Structure and clarity in written communication
  • Acquire skills necessary for self-managed lifelong learning including independent research, critical analysis, and time management.
  • Identify and work towards targets for personal and academic development.

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

  • The module is delivered via 10 three-hour timetabled sessions. Each 3-hour session will combine a 1-hour lecture covering the content outlined, with a 2 hour practical session to expand on concepts introduced in lectures, including group work and presentations.
  • There will be an assessed mini conference where each student will present a poster on a current topic of concern about polar environmental processes. This will be attended by experts-in-the-field from Earth Sciences and Geography.
  • There will be one in-class test on topics related to glaciers and permafrost.
  • Two timetabled meetings during term designed specifically to promote advanced critical reasoning, scientific research, and scientific writing skills, and writing skills.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Teaching and Learning Sessions 10 Weekly 3 Hours 30
Advanced skills practical sessions 2 Twice per term 2 Hours 4
Reading and study of class hand-outs, preparation for and execution of formative and summative assessments, background reading both directed and independent. 66
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 2000 words 40%
In-class test 60%

Formative Assessment:

Practical class work will be formatively assessed in a 30-minute class recapitulation at the end of each 3-hour session. This summary recap will involve presentation of group work to make posters and to summarise literature from the field of polar environmental processes.

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