GEOG312-21S2 (C) Semester Two 2021

Snow, Ice and Climate

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 19 July 2021
End Date: Sunday, 14 November 2021
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 1 August 2021
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 1 October 2021


This course examines the physical processes involved with the formation and evolution of mountain glaciers and seasonal snow, including processes such as surface mass balance, dynamics and hydrology. The course develops knowledge by drawing on key research, and encourages students to critically evaluate published work. The supporting lab programme will enable students to develop a range of transferable skills by working with real data and equipment, for example, ground penetrating radar (GPR), snowpit analysis, and simple glacier models.

2021 Covid-19 Update:
Please refer to the course page on AKO | Learn for all information about your course, including lectures, labs, tutorials, field trips and assessments.


Why are glaciers touted as being excellent indicators of climate change? How do glaciers respond to climate? What will be the impact of current rapid glacial retreat to water resources, sea level rise, and tourism? What about ski-fields – will they survive a warming climate?  

This course focuses on the important role that snow and ice has on landscape evolution, climate interpretation and water availability. The lecture programme begins by exploring glacier mass balance and considering the challenges of measuring snow accumulation and ice ablation in mountainous regions.  The intricacies of glacier motion are considered in-depth, and a unit on glacier hydrology highlights how knowledge of water systems are highly transferable. Material presented in lectures is reinforced by a lab programme that focuses on numerical and spatial analysis of real field data. The way glaciers shape the landscape (glacial geomorphology) and the ability to interpret landscape features to better understand climate change will be the focus of an optional 3-day field trip to the Mckenzie - Aoraki Mount Cook region. During this trip, students will get opportunity to engage with course lecturers about their current glacial research.

Learning Outcomes

  • After successfully completing this course students will be able to:
  • Explain the processes involved in determining glacier mass balance, ice motion and glacier hydrology, and be able to discuss interactions between these processes;
  • Explain why glaciers are excellent climate indicators, and be able to make connections between glacial landscape features in the landscape and past climate variability;
  • Be able to provide specific examples of glacier-related research conducted in New Zealand, as well as at other key research glaciers around the world.
  • Develop a range of analytical, practical and academic skills including; the use of spreadsheet software and GIS for data analysis, interpret and understand a range of graphical data, use relevant formulae to calculate and predict physical parameters, write clearly and concisely and in an accessible scientific style, and, communicate science to an audience.
  • Discuss the importance of understanding the cultural and social implications of undertaking research on public conservation land.
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

      Employable, innovative and enterprising

      Students will develop key skills and attributes sought by employers that can be used in a range of applications.

      Biculturally competent and confident

      Students will be aware of and understand the nature of biculturalism in Aotearoa New Zealand, and its relevance to their area of study and/or their degree.


30 points of 200-level Geography, including GEOG201, or
in special cases with approval of the Head of Department.

Timetable Note

X1 two-hour lecture per week
X4 two-hour labs in selected weeks
X1 three-day field trip (optional)

Course Coordinator

Heather Purdie


Jamie Shulmeister


Assessment Due Date Percentage 
Online quizzes (x3) 15%
Lab completion 5%
Written report 30%
Group presentation 10%
Final Examination 40%

Textbooks / Resources

Recommended Reading

Benn, Douglas I. , Evans, David J. A; Glaciers & glaciation ; 2nd ed; Hodder Education, 2010.

Cuffey, Kurt. , Paterson, W. S. B; The physics of glaciers ; 4th ed; Butterworth-Heinemann/Elsevier, 2010.

There are no set-texts but each lecture is supported set reading(s) of a relevant scientific paper(s). Students are expected to find and read these papers prior to each lecture. Details of the readings will be provided at the start of the course

Course links

Library portal


Prerequisites: Prerequisites: 45 points of 200-level Geography, including GEOG201, or in special cases with approval of the Head of Department.

Recommended preparation: GEOG205

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $877.00

International fee $4,438.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see School of Earth and Environment .

All GEOG312 Occurrences

  • GEOG312-21S2 (C) Semester Two 2021