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. Our new modules explore geohazards and risk, clean energy transitions, and long term environmental change. Students gain specialist academic, international fieldwork and laboratory skills providing a springboard to an exciting and diverse range of careers.

2020 NSS results for our Earth Science degrees including BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology

  • 97% of students felt that staff were good at explaining things.
  • 94% of students agreed the course was intellectually stimulating.
  • 94% of students were satisfied overall with the quality of the course.
  • 96% of students felt they had been able to access course-specific resources (e.g. equipment, facilities, software and collections) when needed.

Scholarships for outstanding applicants

The School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences’ scholarship scheme recognises and rewards students joining our degree courses who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement. 
Scholarships of £1,000 will be awarded to the two applicants in earth sciences who achieve the highest grades in their A level or equivalent exams. The scholarship will be awarded during their first year of study at the University of Plymouth.

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2021*

The University of Plymouth has been ranked 23rd among institutions globally for its contribution to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals*. In the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Studies, 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

Careers with this subject

Our geological 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.

Where could a geological science degree take you?

Key features
  • Our new modules address critical sustainability challenges: reducing risk from natural hazards, harnessing cleaner energy sources and how to combat climate and environmental change.
  • 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 provides opportunities in a variety of UK and overseas locations including Death Valley USA, Spain, Sicily and Cyprus.
  • Study modules dedicated to addressing the connection between physical geography and geology, such as ‘long-term landscape development’.
  • Progress your skills in our open access laboratory, LABplus.
  • Develop your confidence with a personal tutor, providing you with weekly guidance throughout your first year.
  • Our PALS mentoring scheme provides you with support from students in the year ahead.
  • Plymouth's coastal location, close to Dartmoor and two UNESCO World Heritage sites provides the perfect setting for studying geology, with opportunities for fieldwork right on our doorstep.
  • 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.
  • Take the opportunity to spend your second year studying abroad in Canada, Australia, USA or elsewhere through our direct exchange, Erasmus or ISEP programmes. Plymouth is currently the only UK institution to offer exchanges through ISEP, giving our students the greatest range of Earth science exchange opportunities available.

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

    • The Dynamic Earth (GEOL1001)

      This module introduces a dynamic view of how the Earth operates as a series of inter-related systems and provides students with the factual and conceptual basis required to begin to understand these systems. It integrates different geological sub-disciplines via an introductory field excursion, where the basics of mineralogy, petrology, structural geology, stratigraphy and geological map-work will be put into practice.

    • Earth Materials (GEOL1002)

      This module provides an introduction to the origins and properties of Earth materials including the common rock forming minerals, and the igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rock groups.

    • Palaeontology and Stratigraphy (GEOL1004)

      This module provides an introduction to: (a) stratigraphic principles and methods; (b) palaeontology and the fossil record, including the processes of fossilisation and the morphology, ecology, stratigraphic ranges and uses of different groups of fossil organisms.

    • Fieldwork and Key Skills (GEOL1006)

      This module introduces Earth Science students to geological fieldwork and will instruct students how to take field notes, make geological sketches. It will also instruct students in a range of key skills necessary, such as, using learning resources to communicate effectively, citing sources of academic literature, avoiding plagiarism, using digital geospatial data and personal development skills for future careers.

    • Environment and Climate (GGP1206)

      Here we continue our overview of contemporary physical geography (which begin in GGP1205). 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.

    • Hydrology and Geomorphology (GGP1207)

      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 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

    • Preparation for a Year Long Work Placement in Earth Sciences (APIE217)

      This module is designed to assist students in their search and preparation for a year long work placement. It is aimed at students who would like to undertake the placement to enhance both programme specific and employment-related skills during Stage 3.

    • 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.

    • Sedimentology and Palaeontology (GEOL2001)

      This module examines the theory and techniques of paleontological and sedimentological analysis. A range of paleontological data will be investigated to analyse past environments. Modern and ancient sedimentary systems will be evaluated in terms of the processes operating at the time of deposition.

    • Geospatial Techniques (GEOL2003)

      The module develops professional approaches to the collection, analysis and presentation of geospatial data (e.g. geological/geomorphological maps and related Earth imagery) within the Earth Sciences.

    • Stratigraphy and Earth History (GEOL2004)

      This module provides learners with an understanding of the theory and concepts for of the elucidation of Earth History, including litho- bio- and chronostratigraphy, geochemical correlation and isotopic dating methods, sequence stratigraphy and basin evolution. It also provides training in the use and application of key techniques using real-life scenarios.

    • Landscape Evolution (GEOL2007)

      This module examines the concepts and techniques for reconstructing landscape development over Quaternary or longer timescales. The geomorphological landforms within fluvial, coastal, glacial and planetary settings amongst others are considered and how such landscapes change in space and time when subjected to tectonic, climatic and human related perturbations.

    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.

    • Geographical Information Systems (GGX2203A)

      Module provides grounding in theory and practical techniques of GIS. Lectures are on theory, methods and spatial literacy. Practical work covers stages of handling geospatial data, construction of GIS models and automation, provides exposure to a range of techniques in spatial analysis and visualisation, and gives context and experience to spatial literacy concepts. Knowledge and skills are developed in project 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 in Earth Sciences (APIE316)

      This module aims to provide an opportunity for professional training of at least six months duration with an approved company or host organisation between stage 2 and 4. While on placement, students will gain experience of how Earth Science is used in the workplace, be able to apply their Earth Science knowledge and expertise, and learn further skills and relevant techniques.

  • 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

    • Earth Science Independent Research Project and Professional Skills (GEOL3002)

      An independent research project on an Earth science topic, normally involving field and/or laboratory work on a topic relevant to the degree programme. Independent work is linked to skills development appropriate to the management of the project and entry and success in the professional workplace.

    Optional modules

    • Geological Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing (GEOL3006)

      Examines 1) the collection of digital datasets using a range of remote sensing techniques (e.g. satellite imagery, digital elevation models), and 2) the analysis of such remotely sensed data using computer based Geographical Information System software within the Earth Sciences for research and applied purposes.

    • Advanced Geological Fieldwork (GEOL3008)

      A residential fieldtrip centred on the analysis of the geological evolution of a region, where students will integrate their own field observations with published work from a variety of locations in developing and understanding of the geological history of that region and its wider significance to the Earth Sciences.

    • Engineering Geology (GEOL3010)

      This module examines the application of earth science techniques and knowledge to civil engineering. Includes desk studies, remote sensing interpretation, database analysis, UK and European Codes of Practice, site investigation design, ground model development, engineering geology in a range of construction situations, and technical reporting.

    • Environmental Change in Earth History (GEOL3013)

      This module evaluates cutting-edge techniques to understand and interpret modern and ancient environmental change. It uses an integrated approach using fossils, sediments and geochemistry to investigate topical and exciting case studies from the geological past and modern systems. The module has important implications for understanding and responding to modern-day environmental change.

    • Geohazards and Risks (GEOL3014)

      This module will provide an overview of common and destructive geological hazards (e.g. earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions), how they interact together and ways of assessing risk. Physical processes of the hazards will be covered and how they will interact together. Quantifying hazard and risk will be illustrated through case studies. Practicals will have a numerical theme and will link to employability.

    • Energy Transition Geoscience (GEOL3015)

      This module gives an understanding of current and predicted energy scenarios, impact of energy use and the role of geoscientists in decarbonisation and meeting global sustainable development goals. You learn how energy resources form (petroleum, geothermal, critical minerals) and theory, strategies and practical skills used in resource exploration, development and production, and evaluation of carbon capture & storage.

    • Biological Conservation (GGP3204)

      This module examinee 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.

    • Global Climate Change (GGP3205)

      This module is concerned with climate and environmental change in the past, present and future. Different timescales of climate change and their potential mechanisms are examined in detail. We critically review the process of future climate change prediction and review societal response options.

    • 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.

    • Polar and Alpine Change (GGP3210)

      This module is designed to promote student engagement with a range of contemporary issues emerging from a changing global cryosphere, and to learn about the processes and landforms associated with glacial, periglacial, and other cryospheric activity. The module also considers the environmental and socio-economic impacts of cryospheric change.

    • Work Based Learning in Geography (GGX3203)

      This module provides an opportunity for work based learning. Students work with an appropriate host organisation for a minimum of 100 hours, engaged on activities relevant to geographical skills, knowledge and expertise.

    • 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.

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.

In light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the changeable nature of the situation and any updates to government guidance, we may need to make further, last minute adjustments to how we deliver our teaching and learning on some or all of our programmes, at any time during the academic year. We want to reassure you that even if we do have to adjust the way in which we teach our programmes, we will be working to maintain the quality of the student learning experience and learning outcomes at all times.
Entry requirements

UCAS tariff

112 - 120

A level
112-120 points range including a minimum of 2 A Levels, relevant subjects Biology, Mathematics/Use of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Environmental Science/Studies, Applied Science, Geography, Geology, Design Technology. Excluding General Studies.

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.uk if you do not meet this criteria.

IB
28 - 30 points overall. English and mathematics must be included.

GCSE 
Mathematics and English language grade C.

English language requirements.

We welcome applicants with international qualifications. To view other accepted qualifications please refer to our tariff glossary.

Fees, costs and funding

The UK is no longer part of the European Union. EU applicants should refer to our Brexit information to understand the implications.

New Student 2021-2022 2022-2023
Home £9,250 £9,250
International £14,200 £14,600
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. For more information about fees and funding please visit www.plymouth.ac.uk/money.

Undergraduate scholarships for international students

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

Find out whether you are eligible and how you can apply

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.

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 international-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

Field courses*

The field is the best natural laboratory for developing a real understanding of all aspects of the subject, allowing you to put into practice all the theoretical material you learn in lectures, seminars and lab classes.

*Fieldwork viability is subject to government guidelines in response to COVID-19.

Discover more about our field courses

2nd year geology students on a field trip to Pembrokeshire

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.

Research

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.

Find out more about our research

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.