Californian Drylands

Module code: GY3430

This module is based around a 10-day field trip to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley in California.

During this module you'll study the geomorphology (landforms and landscapes) of desert environments. Despite the infrequency and low overall amounts of rainfall in dryland environments, water is, remarkably, a fundamental agent of erosion, transport and deposition in deserts. You'll explore why this is and investigate the landforms and landscapes that result from it. 

Wind is also an effective agent of erosion and deposition in drylands and you'll consider a range of aeolian landforms, including dunes and ventifacts, and the way the fluvial and aeolian systems interact. Finally, many deserts have experienced marked fluctuations in climate and you'll consider how this complex climatic history is reflected in many desert landscapes we see today.

Topics covered

  • The climatic and tectonic settings of deserts
  • The role of water in shaping desert landscapes (dryland rivers, flash floods, alluvial fans)
  • The role of wind in shaping desert landscapes (sand dunes)
  • The impact of past climates on desert landscapes

Learning

  • 3 hours of lectures
  • 2 hours of seminars
  • 80 hours of fieldwork
  • 65 hours of guided independent study

Assessment

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