KE6030 - Geophysical Dynamics

What will I learn on this module?

In this module you will learn basics concepts of continuum mechanics i.e. kinematics (material derivatives, kinematic boundary conditions), kinetics (stresses, traction), balance laws (mass, momentum, energy) and constitutive relationships (stress strain relationships for fluids).

You will learn the effects of rotation on the fluid flow and how these affect the large-scale flow of the ocean and the atmosphere. The focus is on understanding how the large-scale flow regime of the ocean, atmosphere, glaciers and the mantle can be described mathematically.

Your learning will be set within the context of global environmental changes. The module will provide you with the tool required to understand the physical principles of global circulations models used to describe the movement of the atmosphere, oceans, earth’s mantle and large ice sheets.

The course consists of lectures and exercises using a state-of-the art numerical ice sheet model. Assessment of the module is by one individual numerical modelling assignment (30%) and one formal examination (70%).

On completion of the module you will have developed an improved understanding of the earth system and the principles of climate change.
The module is designed to provide you with a useful preparation for employment in earth sciences with aim at pursuing graduate studies in environmental modelling.

Outline Syllabus

• Introduction and review of continuum mechanics, balance laws (mass, conservation, energy), kinematics of deforming bodies, constitutive laws (non-Newtonian rheology).

• Rotating shallow-water models. Large-scale flow approximations used in earth sciences. Large-scale features of ocean circulation and atmospheric circulation. Ocean gyres, boundary currents, eddy transport. Variation in flow with depth/height. Geostrophic balance. Ekman spiral.

• Hydrostasy in the ocean and atmosphere.

• Mechanics of glaciers and ice sheets. Commonly used flow approximations in glaciology. Ice-sheet instabilities. Grounding-line dynamics and instabilities.

• Scaling of flow equations and linearization. Systematic reduction of equations.

How will I learn on this module?

The module will be taught using a combination of lectures and computer lab sessions. Lectures will provide you with a systematic overview of geophysical dynamics. You will learn the fundamental equations of continuum mechanics describing large-scale geophysical flows. Computer lab sessions involve the use of a large-scale ice sheet model written in matlab. Students have an opportunity to tailor their computer projects toward their own interested and will be expected to demonstrate ability to work independently.

Students will be assessed by coursework (30%) and a formal examination (70%). The examination will cover all topics from the module.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

Lectures introduce the key topics of the module. Further understanding will be gained through exercises and by running a large-scale geophysical numerical models.

In addition to direct contact with the module team during lectures and lab sessions, students will encouraged to work independently on a project and further develop their curiosity by making direct contact with the module team either via email or the open door policy operated throughout the programme. Students will also be regularly referred to supporting resources including relevant texts and relevant multimedia materials.

Regular feedback on your learning progress will be provided. This will primarily take place during lectures in informal Q&A sessions.
References to these resources will be made available through the e-learning portal in lectures and computer lab sessions.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:

1. Demonstrate critical knowledge and understanding of the mathematical and physical assumptions underpinning large-scale ocean and atmosphere flow models.

2. Demonstrate an understanding of flow approximations typically used in ice-flow modelling. Being able to run a large-scale ice-flow model and design and conduct experiments tailored towards addressing topical research questions in glaciology and give examples and explain the principles of unstable ice-flow (unstable ice-sheet growth, unstable grounding-line retreat/advance).

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
3. Identify suitable approximations methods to simplify complex models.
4. Use analytical and numerical techniques to obtain qualitative and quantitative information of real-world problems via mathematical modelling.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
5. Critically appraise the use of approximation and asymptotic techniques to analyse various scenarios and determine which approach is relevant for selected specific model and summarise results

How will I be assessed?

• Coursework (30%) – 1, 4, 5
• Examination (70%) – 2,3, 5

• Seminar problems – 1, 2, 3

Summative assessment consists of an assignment on project work and a computer based formal examination.

Informal feedback will be provided on computer lab session based on problems designed to aid student understanding.
Feedback is provided to students individually and in a plenary format both written and verbally to help students improve and promote dialogue around the assessment.





Module abstract

This module introduces the physical concepts governing various geophysical flows and deformation regimes. These include the large-scale flows of the atmosphere and the oceans, ice-sheets and glaciers, and mantle dynamics. The focus is on understanding how continuum mechanics provide a general framework for understanding various large-scale geophysical flow phenomena. The module is designed to provide students with the mathematical and physical tools required to understand `how the earth works’, and in particular to provide students with the background needed to conduct research in earth sciences involving modelling of ice-sheets, the oceans and the climate system.

Assessment of the module is by one individual assignment related to numerical modelling project (30%) and one formal examination (70%). The module is designed to provide students with a useful preparation for employment or postgraduate study in an applied mathematical or engineering environment.

Course info

UCAS Code G100

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


Useful Links

Find out about our distinctive approach at

Admissions Terms and Conditions

Fees and Funding

Admissions Policy

Admissions Complaints Policy