Californian Drylands

Module code: GY3091
Module co-ordinator: Dr Mark Powell

The centrepiece of this module is a ten-day field trip to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, which will give you first-hand knowledge and experience of a dryland environment and a solid background in dryland geomorphology. 

Situated between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the Mojave Desert covers an area of nearly 60,000 square km across southern California and parts of Utah, Nevada and eastern Arizona. It provides a wide range of desert landforms within a relatively small area. During the field trip we will explore the distinctive nature of the desert landforms and landscapes and how the landscapes we see today are also, in part, the product of wetter climatic periods in the recent past. We will look at weathering processes and landforms, rivers, aeolian processes and landforms, desert hillslopes, alluvial fans, salt lakes and geochemical sediments, and the geomorphic impacts of human activity and climate change.

At the end of the trip you will use your newly acquired knowledge to conduct a mini-field trip around a part of the landscape not previously visited 

Please note that there is an additional fee for this module to cover the cost of travel and subsistence. This is a popular module and places are limited. If it is oversubscribed, names will be drawn out of a hat.

Topics covered

  • Weathering processes and landforms
  • Rives
  • Aeolian processes and landforms
  • Desert hillslopes,
  • Alluvial fans
  • Salt lakes and geochemical sediments
  • The geomorphic impacts of human activity and climate change


The module is taught in the field with excursions to sites of geomorphic interest.

  • 2 hours of lectures
  • 80 hours of fieldwork
  • 68 hours of guided independent study


  • Landscape mapping exercise (20%)
  • Landscape interpretation exercise (30%)
  • Essay (50%)