School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology

Physical geography and geology examines how the Earth’s surface is shaped by natural and human processes. This knowledge is key to addressing many of the complex sustainability challenges facing the planet. Core modules explore seismic, landscape and volcanic geohazards, clean energy transitions, and long term environmental change. Students also study geographical modules which provide a deep understanding of climate, environments, and the biosphere.

Innovative Earth Science courses

Our Earth Science courses are designed around a core which provides students with the skills and expertise that are critical to tackle today’s challenges of global environmental change. Ranging from locating and extracting the raw materials needed for a green energy transition to understanding climate history through time, the Earth Sciences play an active role and provide crucial perspectives on our planet's future. 

Careers with this subject

Our Earth science students have tremendous opportunities to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment in a variety of work settings. Our hands-on approach to teaching and learning throughout the course will provide you with the topical skills and experience that you can apply to the wide range of career options as graduates.

Key features

  • Our modules address critical sustainability challenges: reducing risk from natural hazards, harnessing cleaner energy sources and how to combat climate and environmental change. 
  • Gain specialist academic, international fieldwork and laboratory skills providing a springboard to an exciting and diverse range of careers.
  • Our approachable staff share their cutting-edge research and expertise through varied teaching practices in lectures, tutorials, practical classes and field courses. 
  • Learn to apply the latest techniques in the field and laboratory. Our substantial fieldwork programme uses the unrivalled local range of geological and geographical locations. Residential overseas fieldwork visits regions of active tectonics such as Death Valley, Italy and Sicily.
  • All students have the opportunity to spend your second year studying abroad in Europe, Canada, Australia, USA or elsewhere through our bilateral and ISEP exchange programmes.
  • Students can undertake a placement year, between the second and final year, working full time for a geological employer.
  • Study modules addressing the connection between physical geography and geology, such as ‘long-term landscape development’.
  • Improve your skills in our open access laboratory, LABplus.
  • Develop your confidence with your personal tutor, providing you with regular guidance throughout your degree. 
  • Get support from students in the year ahead via our PALS mentoring scheme.
  • Live and study close to the sea, Dartmoor and two geological UNESCO World Heritage sites.
  • Receive essential field safety equipment free as part of your welcome package.
  • Work towards becoming a Chartered Geologist, our accreditation by the Geological Society, the world’s oldest and most prestigious national learned society for geology, helps you to gain the required experience.
  • We are proud of our 2022 NSS results for our Earth science degrees: 90% of students thought that staff were good at explaining things and 86% of students felt that staff made the subject interesting.
  • A diverse and respectful place in which to work and study is fundamental to everything we do. Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science.

Course details

  • Year 1

  • In your first year, you'll build a foundation in physical geography and geology to understand mineral- and rock-forming processes. Core modules include Earth history and structure, the fossil record, biogeography, geomorphology, and surface processes. Laboratory classes will help you develop a range of key analytical skills and you’ll acquire essential field skills in the diverse landscapes of south-west England.

    Core modules

    • Environment and Climate (GGP1206)

      Here we continue our overview of contemporary physical geography (which begins in GGP1207). The module is structured around key themes that are prominent in geographical thinking about environment al processes and change. Lectures provide a framework for understanding these themes, and we explore in more detail local examples in laboratory and practical sessions.

    • Sustainable Geoscience (GEOL1008)

      An introduction to sustainable geoscience and the role of geoscientists in the solution of global challenges and UN sustainable development goals.  Introduction to good, professional and ethical scientific practice. The module also introduces the Earth as a system of interlinked spheres (geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere), and the unifying paradigms associated with geological time and plate tectonics. 

    • Earth Materials and Resources (GEOL1009)

      An introduction to Earth materials (minerals, rocks and resources) and geological structures, focussing on their formation, composition and properties from a theoretical and practical perspective, supported by case study(ies). The environmental and ethical issues associated with resource exploitation will be introduced. Students will be introduced to safe and professional field practice. 

    • Climate Tectonics and Hazards (GEOL1010)

      This module provides an introduction to Earth Surface processes and their interactions with plate tectonics, at present and in the geological past. Participants learn how an understanding of Earth surface processes and environments can be used in determining the cause and nature of past and future climate and oceanographic change, and in the understanding, prediction and mitigation of a range of geological hazards. 

    • Water, Landscape and Environmental Management (GGP1208)

      Here we begin our overview of contemporary physical geography. The module is structured around key themes that are prominent in geographical thinking about the environment. Lectures provide a framework for understanding these themes, and through fieldwork and supporting laboratory classes we explore examples of their local manifestation using quantitative data, graphic and spatial statistical analysis.

  • Year 2

  • In your second year, you’ll study Earth surface systems and a range of techniques and methods in physical geography and geology - developing your field skills in the dramatic environments of the Spanish Pyrenees. Core geological modules and the specialist long term landscape evolution module build on knowledge developed in your first year, while a range of physical geography options allow you to develop your physical geography knowledge in areas that interest you. You can choose to develop your skills further by applying to spend this year studying abroad in Canada, Australia, USA or Europe.

    Core modules

    • Weather and Climate (ENVS2005)

      Understanding weather and climate is essential for developing in-depth knowledge on how climate is changing today and will change in the future. This module will develop intellectual and practical skills in critical analysis of weather and climate data. In addition, an examination of the scientific evidence for current and predicted effects of weather and climate will be addressed.

    • The Earth Surface and Critical Zone (GEOL2014)

      This module provides a practical and theoretical understanding to the analysis of the Earth surface and near surface (the Critical Zone), integrating a range of data and analytical methods to explore present and ancient environments. 

    • The Earth's Interior and Resources (GEOL2015)

      This module provides a theoretical and practical understanding of the analysis of the Earth’s subsurface. Students learn how to analyse and interpret subsurface data (including geophysical techniques) and geological materials formed in the subsurface, applications of these techniques and knowledge in resource exploration and production, and the impacts of subsurface investigations. 

    • Placement Preparation (GEES2000)

      This module explores the role of placements, work experience and volunteering for enhancing employability whilst at university and as a future graduate. It considers placement options (types, durations) and supports students in developing applications and preparing for interviews.

    Optional modules

    • Quaternary to Anthropocene (GGP2206)

      The Earth has undergone significant and fundamental changes during our current interglacial period (the last ~12,000 years), to the point of a new Geological epoch being suggested: the Anthropocene. This module focuses on deepening students’ understanding of how our planet has moved from one that was nature-dominated to the current culture-dominated environment we inhabit, at both local, continental and global scales.

    • Catchment to Coast (GGP2207)

      Practically all human-environment interactions take place within river catchments and the coastal zone. To address key environmental challenges of the 21st century, such as climate change and sustainable resource management, we need to understand how these integrated systems function. This module provides the process knowledge required to contribute to global and local debates, and includes field and laboratory work.

  • Year 3

  • Take advantage of our optional placement year, giving you the opportunity to develop your geological skills in the workplace and gain valuable experience. Find your perfect placement with the help of our employability service and benefit from specialist workshops and tutorials in your second year, helping you prepare for your year in industry.

    Core modules

    • Placement (GEES3000)

      This module is a placement position, where a student undertakes a programme of work within a host company or organisation. The placement occurs within a yearlong period, meeting minimum duration requirements. Students experience applying their degree, experience professional practice, develop enhanced subject-related knowledge and skills, and undergo personal-professional development.

  • Final year

  • In your final year, you will undertake an independent field- or laboratory-based project for your honours dissertation, which is supported by a programme of professional skills development. You’ll also develop specialist knowledge and skills through a wide range of final year option modules spanning the spectrum of geology and physical geology. Develop advanced field skills during a field course in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, Sicily or Death Valley (USA).

    Core modules

    • Geoscience Research Project (GEOL3016)

      This module involves the planning, data collection, data analysis and manipulation, interpretation and presentation of a substantive piece of original geological research, based around primary data collection by the student. The project may involve field, laboratory, desk-based or combination study. 

    • Professional Field and Core Analysis (GEOL3020)

      Students undertake two applied geological projects, gathering, integrating, analysing, and interpreting structural and stratigraphic data for an applied geological mapping project and an analysis of rock core material, integrating analysis of a range of associated samples and data. Students are trained in a professional methodology to safe and ethical practice and presentation of the work to a range of audiences.

    Optional modules

    • Dryland Change (GGP3209)

      Drylands comprise 47% of the world’s land surface and are home to > 2 billion people. They are highly susceptible to environmental change (human, climate, tectonic), and preserve archives of that change over human to Quaternary timescales. This module builds expertise in reading the geomorphological record of drylands (process and landform), and examines the challenges of living sustainably with these dynamic landscapes.

    • Big Data & Spatial Analytics (GGX3204)

      This module provides an overview of advanced spatial analysis concepts and facilitates practice of data processing and management skills. Data manipulation through programming is introduced and the concept of big data is presented. Themes and practice around the acquisition, processing, analysis, visualisation and application of big data are explored, drawing on examples from across the natural and social sciences.

    • Long-term Environmental Change (GGP3211)

      Society is dependent on the environment for sustaining life as we currently know it. This module takes a series of environmental challenges and places them in a long-term perspective to place current disruptions in a longer-term context. The module focusses on how we can learn lessons from the past to manage our current and future environment.

    • Biological Conservation (ENVS3015)

      This module examines the pursuit of biological conservation. Drawing on a wide range of case study material, in temperate and tropical, terrestrial and aqueous environments, the module examines the drivers and rationales for biological conservation, and the role of stakeholders, policies, legislation and practices in achieving it.

    • Work Based Learning in Geography and Sustainability (GEES3001)

      This module provides an opportunity for students to experience professional practice in environmental management and sustainability. Students will undertake a minimum of 100 hours service with a professional organisation (private, public or third sector). You will investigate the organisation's practice in environmental management and sustainability and further develop professional attitudes and behaviours.

    • Contemporary Arctic and Alpine Challenges (GGP3212)

      High latitudes and altitudes are warming faster than many other regions of the world. This module takes a contemporary, and forward looking, perspective on the grand challenges that impact the resilience of these landscapes and societies in present and future climates and their associated hazards. Students will learn practical skills to quantify environmental pressures and critically evaluate mitigation strategies

    • Environmental and Resource Geoscience (GEOL3022)

      This module investigates the interactions between humans and the subsurface, from the impact of industrial legacies on land quality and water resources, to the role that the subsurface plays in renewable energy storage. Students learn to use industry standard software and workflows to evaluate subsurface sites for energy resources, safe subsurface storage of resources, carbon dioxide or hazardous waste. 

    • Tectonics and Geohazards (GEOL3023)

      This module involves the study of one of the World’s most tectonically active settings to gain an in-depth understanding of how active tectonics, climate and environmental change interact and have evolved to control the nature and distribution of geological and geomorphological features, natural hazards and resources. The impacts/mitigation of hazards and resource exploitation are evaluated, usually around field data. 

Every undergraduate taught course has a detailed programme specification document describing the course aims, the course structure, the teaching and learning methods, the learning outcomes and the rules of assessment.

The following programme specification represents the latest course structure and may be subject to change:

BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology programme specification_5369

The modules shown for this course are those currently being studied by our students, or are proposed new modules. Please note that programme structures and individual modules are subject to amendment from time to time as part of the University’s curriculum enrichment programme and in line with changes in the University’s policies and requirements.

Entry requirements

UCAS tariff

112 - 120

A level
112 points including a minimum of 2 A levels in a science subject (see subject list below) or 120 points including 1 A Level in a science subject (see subject list below).We accept the following A level subjects: Biology/Human Biology, Maths/Use of Maths/Further Maths, Statistics, Physics, Electronics, Chemistry, Environmental Science/Studies, Applied Science, Geography, Geology, Design and Technology, Psychology, Computer Science/Computer Programming, Information Technology/Information and Communication Technology.
T Level
Merit overall from any science pathway.
BTEC QCF Extended Diploma/RQF National Extended Diploma
DMM-DDM – science related subject. You are encouraged to contact admissions@plymouth.ac.uk if you do not meet this criteria.
BTEC National Diploma modules
If you hold a BTEC qualification it is vital that you provide our Admissions team with details of the exact modules you have studied as part of the BTEC. Without this information we may be unable to process your application quickly and you could experience significant delays in the progress of your application to study with us. Please explicitly state the full list of modules within your qualification at the time of application.
Access
Pass an Access to HE Diploma (science based) with at least 33 credits at merit. You are encouraged to contact admissions@plymouth.ac.ukif you do not meet this criteria.
IB
28 - 30 points overall. English and mathematics must be included.
GCSE
Mathematics and English language grade C.
We welcome applicants with international qualifications. To view other accepted qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary

Fees, costs and funding

Student 2023-2024 2024-2025
Home £9,250 £9,250
International £16,300 £18,100
Part time (Home) £770 £770
Full time fees shown are per annum. Part time fees shown are per 10 credits. Please note that fees are reviewed on an annual basis. Fees and the conditions that apply to them shown in the prospectus are correct at the time of going to print. Fees shown on the web are the most up to date but are still subject to change in exceptional circumstances. More information about fees and funding.

Undergraduate scholarships for international students

To reward outstanding achievement the University of Plymouth offers scholarship schemes to help towards funding your studies.

Additional costs

This course is delivered by the Faculty of Science and Engineering and more details of any additional costs associated with the faculty's courses are listed on the following page: Additional fieldwork and equipment costs.

Tuition fees for optional placement years

The fee for all undergraduate students completing any part of their placement year in the UK in 2023/2024 is £1,850.
The fee for all undergraduate students completing their whole placement year outside the UK in 2023/2024 is £1,385.
Learn more about placement year tuition fees

How to apply

All applications for undergraduate courses are made through UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service). 
UCAS will ask for the information contained in the box at the top of this course page including the UCAS course code and the institution code. 
To apply for this course and for more information about submitting an application including application deadline dates, please visit the UCAS website.
Support is also available to overseas students applying to the University from our International Office via our how to apply webpage or email admissions@plymouth.ac.uk.

Progression routes

International progression routes

The University of Plymouth International College (UPIC) offers foundation, first-year and pre-masters programmes that lead to University of Plymouth degrees. Courses are specially designed for EU and international students who are missing the grades for direct entry to the University, and include full duration visa sponsorship. You can start in January, May or September, benefitting from small class sizes, top-quality tuition and 24/7 student support.
Find out more at plymouth.ac.uk/upic or contact our team at info@upic.plymouth.ac.uk

Adrienne, BSc (Hons) Geology student, shares her experience of a course field trip in Italy.

Our suite of courses offer opportunities for overseas fieldwork. 

Discover facilities in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

As student in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences you will have access to a range of cutting-edge resources and facilities.  
These will support your learning in the field and in the laboratory – whether in traditional chemistry lab or a high-performance computing room. Many are solely for the use of our students and researchers and you will also have access to LABplus Resource Centre and the Marine Station.
 
Students using a petrographic microscope

QS World University Rankings 2023

In top 15 UK universities for earth and marine sciences, geology and geophysics - QS World University Rankings by subject 2023

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022*

The University of Plymouth has been named among the top 5% of universities globally in 2022 for its contribution to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals*, in particular, work on marine issues and on climate change. In the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, sustainability is at the heart of our research and teaching. From sustainable cities, affordable and clean energy, to climate policy, biodiversity, and natural hazards, our academic staff work with partners locally and overseas to help understand, communicate and solve fundamental and pressing sustainability challenges.
Find out more in our press release 

Where could a career in geology take you?

Geologists are in demand globally. From meeting challenges associated with sustaining energy supplies, to developing low-carbon economies, and understanding, designing and mitigating against changing climates, there are many exciting opportunities available.

Centre for Research in Earth Sciences (CRES)

Our world-class research keeps staff at the cutting edge of recent scientific developments within the field.
Explore the interdisciplinary research carried out within Earth sciences.
Aerial shot of an active volcano.

Journey to the Bottom of the Celtic Sea

Research by our Earth Scientists on the Celtic Sea bed is helping develop renewable energy futures in the south west.

People


Celebrating 50 years of geography

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of geography as a degree subject at the University of Plymouth.
In the last half century, 6,394 students have graduated from our geography programmes and 154 staff have worked with us, supporting and carrying out world-class research and teaching.
*These are the latest results from the National Student Survey. Please note that the data published on Discover Uni is updated annually in September.