ENVU2LE: Landscape Evolution

CO-ORDINATOR: Dr Richard Tipping


The module describes and analyses the major driving forces, gravity, wind and water, that shape the surface of the Earth, and how these have affected rocks to create distinctive landforms and landscapes. These processes vary in space and over time at all scales, changing in occurrence, frequency, intensity and magnitude. Their pace is controlled sometimes by climate and climate change, and at other times by human activities. We will follow the journey to the deep ocean of sediment particles liberated by weathering from rock to create soil. We will consider at one scale how and why soils are eroded, and at a much larger scale how entire mountain chains are worn down. We will trace sediment down slopes, into rivers to the sea, and analyse how smooth this ‘conveyor belt’ of sediment transport is, and how it can break down.

Learning Outcomes

After completing the course, student should possess an understanding of:
(a) the ground-rules for explaining landscape change
(b) the major theories developed to explain landscape change
(c) the links between geomorphology and geology, climate, hydrology and ecology
(d) the processes shaping temperate latitude environments
(e) the conditions allowing rock weathering, soil formation, soil erosion, sediment release and supply, sediment availability, transport, storage and loss to deep ocean sinks
(f) the importance of connectivity in landscape change
(g) environmental systems, feedbacks, linearity and non-linearity
(h) measuring time (14C, 210Pb, tephra; tree rings; lichenometry; cosmogenic isotopes)
(i) the significance of inheritance in explaining temperate latitude landscapes
(j) rates of landscape change from Quaternary glaciations to the present.

Acquired Skills

1. Observational and analytical skills in field-interpretation
2. The interpretation of landforms and sediments and how they can reveal the long -term history of a landscape
3. An appreciation of competing hypotheses in explaining landscape change and how they have been and can be tested

Teaching Methods

The module will be taught through 20 lectures of 1 hour duration, usually two a week. Field interpretation and observation will be taught through two compulsory sessions which the student undertakes in their own time and in which the student learns and observes through discussion with friends. These sessions are compulsory because they include acquired skills essential in later parts of the course. There are also a series of six short (15-20 minute duration) self-taught Succeed-based sessions, again compulsory so that the student feels confident in the understanding and application of technical terms.


  • There are two pieces of assessed coursework which the student undertakes in their own time.  Each is worth 25% of the total mark for the course.
  • There are also 6 ‘milestone tasks’, short (20 minute) Succeed-supported tests which will require the student to identify landforms and features on photographs, thus learning the necessary ‘jargon’ of the subject.  The pass-mark for each test is 60% and the student needs to have passed 4 of the 6 tests (67%) to qualify for the final examination. The student can repeat tests if necessary.
  • There is a 1.5 hour written examination in which the student gives 9 short answers to a choice of 20 questions set. The examination is worth 50% of the total mark for the course.


The recommended course text is:
Holden, J. 2012. An Introduction to Physical Geography and the Environment. (3rd Edition)
London: Pearson.

Parts of the course-text for ENVU1GE will assist but are not a substitute. The University Library has stocks of good introductory text-books.

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