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Durham University

Faculty Handbook 2022-2023

Module Description

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run each academic year.

Department: Earth Sciences

GEOL3221: Hazardous Geophysical Flows

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap Location Durham


  • GEOL1081, Further Mathematics for Geoscientists OR a comparable module taught in the Mathematics Department, AND GEOL2251 Modelling Earth Processes or GEOL2291 Geophysical Data Applications


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This course seeks to model, directly measure and thus understand, a wide range of geophysical flows. They include many of the most hazardous events on our planet, and these events play a key role in global sediment and geochemical cycles. The course aims to link quantitative theory, laboratory and numerical modelling and direct field observations with novel technologies. It is relevant to future onshore and offshore geohazard-related careers.
  • The first part of the course (Term 1) will also develop coding skills for a range of geophysical flows. The second part of the project will focus on how we observed and monitor geophysical in the field, and how field data poses questions for modellers. It will also illustrate how new technologies are being used to underpin flow monitoring systems.


  • Part 1: Introduction to Basic Physics and Modelling of Flows (Term 1): Shallow water equation modelling; Gravity Currents and plumes; Powder snow avalanches and pyroclastic flows; Dry granular flows; Two phase flows, sediment settling, debris flows; Turbulent suspension of sediment; turbulence damping; Multilayer models: Turbidity currents, Avalanches, Pyroclastic flows; Other planetary bodies.
  • Part 2: Field observations: Flow dynamics, hazards, direct monitoring (Term 2): Turbidity currents; Subaerial landslides and rockfalls; Subaerial debris flows and lahars; Pyroclastic flows and surges, ash clouds and plumes; Submarine landslides (volcanic and non-volcanic); Tsunami - Earthquake, Landslide and Volcano triggers; Ocean circulation and observing systems; Ice sheet dynamics; Mass flows on Mars and other planets.
  • Parts 3: Research project using cutting edge field data and modelling: The final part of the module is a research project based on newly collected field observations of hazardous flows in action; involving snow avalanches and submarine sediment flows. These field data sets will include new technologies, and be part of wider international cutting edge projects. The student will help design the project aims, and the final project will combine GIS skills, modelling skills or field data analysis.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • To understand how geophysical flows work, and the hazards they pose.
  • To develop quantitative skills in modelling and field monitoring of geophysical flows, which are valuable for a wide range of future careers.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • To develop skills in coding and flow modelling.
  • To understand the basic theory for hazardous geophysical flows.
  • To understand how new technologies can be used to monitor and measure hazardous flows.
Key Skills:
  • Critical Analysis
  • Research capability
  • Scholarship
  • Practical competency
  • Independent learning
  • Numeracy
  • Coding, modelling and GIS skills
  • Literacy
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module is delivered through 3 hour sessions, supported by handouts and directed reading.
  • Part 1 lectures and will be linked to coding-based practicals, within the 3 hour session.
  • The research project using new field data sets will be designed and undertaken in Part 2.
  • Each 3 hour session in part 2 will combines a 1 hour lecture, with 2 hours of practical research project activities.
  • Summative assessment will comprise a final report on the research project (100%), whilst formative assessment will be an initial report.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures/labs 20 Weekly 3 hours 60
Preparation and Reading 140
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Continual Assessment Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Final report on research project 100%

Formative Assessment:

This will comprise an initial report on the research project.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University

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