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GEOG2040 Coastal Landscapes and Human Interactions

Module Overview

Coastal zones represent a small fraction of physical space on the Earth, but they are exceptionally important places to study physical and ecological dynamics of environmental change – in natural and anthropogenic systems, alike. This module examines natural processes of coastal physical landscape change and ecosystem functioning, along with a spectrum of human activities (infrastructural development, hazard mitigation, resource extraction) that reshape coastal environments over time. Many coastal systems are settings in which natural processes and human activities are dynamically linked, such that the state and behaviour of each is a function of the other. This module will explore a variety of coastal and marine environments (e.g., tropical, temperate, arctic) and associated resource uses (infrastructure, agri/aquaculture, real-estate development, mining, energy) as integrated systems. Examples of coastal systems from around the planet will introduce students to spheres of physical geography that they may explore further through elective modules and dissertation projects in their final year.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

This module aims to: (1) introduce the natural physical processes that shape coastal landscapes, and then to examine the markedly different dynamics that characterise developed coastal zones; (2) provide students with a guided tour through this area of physical geography and to create opportunities (through coursework) for self-directed study of particular topics in physical coastal science.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • identify and explain the fundamental constituent parts of natural and anthropogenic coastal systems, including physical environments and salient processes (physical/ecological/socioeconomic);
  • apply theoretical frameworks to evaluate different kinds of coastal systems;
  • determine, adapt, and use information from primary sources to plan and develop a cogent synthesis of a given coastal system in detail;
  • communicate the structure, function, and relevance of a coastal system to a broad audience.


A typical syllabus for this module may include lectures/sessions on: • barrier beaches • cliffs & rocky coasts • marshes & mangroves • estuaries • deltas • coastal change in the arctic • coastal/marine sedimentary systems • wave-driven processes: offshore, nearshore & onshore • sea-level rise & other effects of climate change • coastal/marine anthromes • living with & managing coastal change • coastal hazard & risk • adaptation and transformation • coupled human–landscape systems • coastal geoengineering • coastal system "traps"

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will vary with enrolment numbers, but may include lectures, discussion sessions, and small-group (workshop style) sessions.

Independent Study120
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Lazarus ED, Ellis MA, Murray AB, Hall DM (2016). An evolving research agenda for human–coastal systems. Geomorphology. ,256 , pp. 81-90.

Masselink, Hughes & Knight. Introduction to coastal processes and geomorphology. 

Lazarus ED Toward a global classification for coastal anthromes. Land. ,6 .

Masselink & Gehrels. Coastal environments and global change. 

Werner BT, McNamara DE (2007). Dynamics of coupled human–landscape systems. Geomorphology. ,91 , pp. 393-407.

Ostrom E (2009). A general framework for analysing sustainability of social–ecological systems. Science. ,325 , pp. 419-422.

Nordstrom. Beaches and dunes of developed coasts. 

Meadows. Thinking in Systems. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 50%
Exam 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 50%
Exam 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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