Environmental Processes and Change: The Global System

Unit code: GEOG10401
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 1
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit?: Y




  • To consider a global physical geography and key interactions between the atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere
  • To develop an understanding of environmental processes and change at the global scale
  • To ask big questions and tackle big ideas in physical geography
  • To explore the drivers of global environmental change over a range of timescales


How and why does the Earth system change? What caused the ice ages? How can long-term tectonic processes change the global climate? Why should we think about river basin processes at the global scale? How does vegetation influence climate? Has the Earth ever been in a Snowball state? Why are these questions important? These are just some of the questions that we will consider in this course. GEOG 10401 presents a global perspective on physical geography and examines key interactions between the atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere. We will ask big questions and consider big ideas.

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be delivered by one 2 hour class each week. These are to be supplemented by private study that will include directed reading.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course unit you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a basic understanding the composition and functioning of the atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere and the key interactions between them
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the processes involved in the transfer of energy and materials (e.g. water and sediment) at the global scale and how these change over time
  • Understand the global geography of a range of physical and biological phenomena including atmospheric circulation, weathering processes, runoff and sediment transport, and biodiversity
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the key drivers of long-term global environmental change including the greenhouse effect and the causes of ice ages

Assessment Further Information

The course will be assessed by an examination at the end of Semester 1. This will be a two-hour exam including multiple choice questions, short answer questions, and one essay style question.


The course comprises a series of 2 hour classes:
Week 1 – Earth system and drivers of global change
Week 2 – Weathering and material fluxes
Week 3 – Global hydrology and river loads
Week 4 – The global climate system
Week 5 – Volcanoes and climate
Week 7 – Biomes, climate and vegetation climate feedbacks
Week 8 – Global biodiversity
Week 9 – The cryosphere and Snowball Earth
Week 10 – STUDY WEEK
Week 11 – The Quaternary Ice Age
Week 12 – Endogenic-Exogenic interactions: revision and feedback 

Recommended reading

Key papers (journal articles and book chapters) to support the lectures will be recommended each week and links to these will be placed on the Blackboard pages for this course. The recommended reading is an essential component of this course – it will help you to understand the material presented in the lectures. You need to read widely to do well in the examination.


Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • Verbal feedback through Q&A and discussion within lecture sessions
  • Verbal feedback from JW and WF on any course unit issue through staff office hours
  • An online FAQ discussion board on Blackboard
  • Discussion of exam result with your academic advisor

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 2 hours
  • Lectures - 20 hours
  • Independent study hours - 78 hours

Teaching staff

Jamie Woodward - Unit coordinator

Timothy Darvill - Unit coordinator

Gareth Clay - Unit coordinator

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