Californian Drylands

Module code: GY3430

This module considers 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. We explore why this is so and investigate the landforms and landscapes that result. Wind is also an effective agent of erosion and deposition in drylands and we 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 we consider how this complex climatic history is reflected in many desert landscapes we see today. This module is based around a 10-day field trip to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley in California.


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


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