Glacial Worlds

Module code: GY2436

This module considers the diverse desert environments of the African continent. Drawing on recent staff research projects, you'll consider the climate, landscapes and ecology of the arid regions of Africa, particularly the causes of aridity and the unique impacts of aridity on landscape/ecological processes in these regions.  

You'll also explore human adaptations to, and impacts upon, semi-arid and arid environments, considering hunter-gatherer adaptations to the arid zone, and more recent debates around the desertification phenomenon. The module is taught largely by lectures, but the final section comprises student-led seminars, where the precise topics for discussion are developed according to student interests. 

The module draws on material across the physical geography degree, particularly the year 2 module The Dynamic Biosphere and Catchment Systems. It also combines well with the year three field class California Drylands.

Topic covered

  • The macro-scale controls on aridity at the global scale, and across Africa
  • Temporal variability in dryland climatic conditions (notable drought events)
  • The ecology and flora of several key African biomes (e.g. Savanna, Nama Karoo)
  • The landscapes and landforms of desert environments
  • The long-term climatic evolution of African deserts (they were not always so dry)
  • Human responses to aridity, in both the distant past and today


  • 16 hours of lectures
  • 4 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 130 hours of guided independent study


  • Ice core practical analysis (25%)
  • Exam, 1½ hours (75%)