Some of the biggest uncertainties in climate change predictions come from our lack of understanding of the impact of some of the smallest airborne dust particles. These dust particles are transported between continents from some of the hottest and most unpopulated regions on our planet, and potentially end up fertilising tropical rain forests or ocean algal blooms. Yet, even in the harshest of desert environments, vegetation or bacteria may still exist, and help to shape the windy landscapes that they reside in. Landscapes where wind-blown sand forms some of the most exquisite, self-organised patterns visible on satellite images and recognisable on other planets.
Aims and Objectives
Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:
- Identify key processes and controls associated with aeolian landscape development (A1, GA7)
- Appreciate and articulate underlying geomorphic principles in dryland settings (A3, GA10)
- Use computational skills and apply them to computer modelling techniques (D2, GD4, GD5)
- Manipulate aeolian data and apply it in problem solving (C2, GC5)
- Analyse, calculate and solve aeolian process problems (C1, GC4)
- Find and interpret scientific literature (D1, GD6
- Formulate and articulate relative merit and reasoning behind the use of geomorphic models (B2, GB2)
- Recognise and interpret the variation of temporal and spatial scales associated with aeolian bedforms, landforms and landscapes (A2, GA6)
- Articulate scientific knowledge to peers (D3, GD3)
- Operate a simple desert dune model using computer techniques (C3, GC1)
- Work in an efficient and productive way in a small group environment (D4, GD7)
- Distinguish and compare similarities and differences in process and form under different environmental settings (B1, GB4)
In this module you will get the chance to be transported to some of the most remote places on Earth, investigating a dune field of your choice through a user-friendly, bespoke model, with an easy to use GUI (graphical user interface). Just press ‘go’ and see dunes evolve, enabling you to explore aeolian system response to environmental or climate drivers at the landscape scale. You will also get to measure real-life dune processes during hands-on lab experiments where you will be able to initiate dune avalanches in the new Geography and Environment Avalanche Facility and use terrestrial laser scanning to measure surface change with sub-millimetre accuracy at a speed of one million points per second.
Alongside lectures, computer help sessions and avalanche labs, a number of interactive workshops will let you practise your employability skills of consulting on the dust potential of different playa surfaces, how complex dune patterns on Mars might have arisen and where future rover missions should explore.
If you are curious about some of the landscapes on our planet that are the most beautiful, least studied and most susceptible to climate change, then this module is for you. If you want to see what the surface of the dustiest place in the US is really like, or create computer modelled dune patterns, or just get some desert sand under your fingernails in the lab, then this module is for you.
The study of desert landscapes has always had broad multidisciplinary appeal, and this module is suitable for geographers, environmental scientists, physicists, geologists, musicians and anyone interested in understanding wind-blown worlds.
Learning and Teaching
Teaching and learning methods
The teaching methods employed will consist of a series of lectures, a number of computer help sessions for the individual project, workshops and laboratory experiments in the Geography and Environment Avalanche Facility.
More specifically the module will be divided into three distinct sections. During the first weeks of the semester desert landscapes and the aeolian processes which shape and change landforms and landscapes will be covered in detail, including larger scale sand dunes and sand seas. During this section students will identify a sand sea of their choice, which will form the basis of a self-directed project. They will then make use of a user friendly dune modelling interface to explore research questions related to the sand sea project.
The second component of the course explores landscape interpretation, including techniques to address management issues and examine how desert landscapes change through time, their response to climate fluctuations, ways in which we can use ancient landscape records to further our understanding of modern processes, and how earth-based knowledge allows us to interpret aeolian landforms on other planetary bodies.
Finally in the third section, practical applications, how do these particles move, what impact does dust have on a changing environment, when will a dune be a hazard and what makes it avalanche.
Student comments from 2017 relating specifically to some of the learning activities you will experience on this module:
'Having an independent report is a really good way to develop your understanding. It also means you can explore the aspects of the module that interest you most, or draw in new ideas.'
'I particularly enjoyed being able to explore and model in Matlab. I believe I have gained deeper insight into environmental modelling and have gained a useful skill from taking this module. Overall, I found the lectures to be of good quality and I was able to explore an area of modelling of my choosing as I was supported by the wealth of materials that were available on Blackboard.'
'The variety of teaching methods not just lectures but computer workshops and classroom workshops. The small class size also allowed for much greater interaction with the lecturer.'
|Total study time||150|
This is how we’ll formally assess what you have learned in this module.
This is how we’ll assess you if you don’t meet the criteria to pass this module.
Repeat type: Internal & External