Geography A-Level curriculum

Glacial Systems and Landscapes | Coastal Environments | Contemporary Geographical Issues | Case studies | Geography Fieldwork Investigation |

Glacial Systems and Landscapes

“Glacial Systems and Landscapes” is an optional module in your AQA A-Level geography syllabus. If you are studying cold environments for your A-Level exams, you can find lots of information on this website to help you with your revision and essays.

If you don’t understand something, why not ask Bethan a question on Ask A Scientist? Check your facts: What are the most common misconceptions about glaciers?

An exposure in a drumlin in Scotland. Understanding the sediments in this drumlin would make a good study!
An exposure in a drumlin in Scotland. Understanding the sediments in this drumlin would make a good study!

Global distribution of cold environments

You should understand that cold environments are distributed globally, with ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, glacierised mountain ranges in the Alps, Himalaya and Patagonia, high Arctic ice caps and glaciers, for example in Norway and Canada.

Read the introductions to the three Antarctic Ice Sheets: the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet. What are the differences and similarities between these ice sheets?

You should also understand the global distribution of past and present cold environments (polar, alpine, glacial and periglacial) and areas affected by Pleistocene glaciations.

Take a look at the page Types of Glacier. What is the difference between an ice sheet, ice stream, glacier, ice cap, ice shelf, sea ice and iceberg?


You should also understand what is meant by a Marine Ice Sheet, such as the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. What does this mean for the ice sheet’s stability?

Take a look at the Google Earth project. What can you see on the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet?

Glaciers as natural systems

Understand the meaning of ‘Mass Balance‘ and what is meant by accumulation and ablation. Understand that glaciers receive snow by accumulation, that the glacier flows downslope, and that glaciers melt at their snout (ablation). Read the Glacier Flow page.

Ice movement

How does ice flow? Learn about types of ice flow, extension and compression, basal sliding and ice deformation.

Take a look at the Glacier Flow page. What is glacial thermal regime? How do warm and cold-based glaciers differ? Read the Glacial Thermal Regime page.

Components of mass balance of a glacier. From the USGS
Components of mass balance of a glacier. From the USGS

Glacial processes and landscape development

Now you have a good understanding of how glaciers work, take a look at the mark they leave on the landscape. Work your way through the Glacial Landforms pages. Which ones are erosional landforms, which ones are depositional landforms? Specifically look at types of moraine and drumlins.

The ice is getting dirtier as the debris melts over it
The ice is getting dirtier as the debris melts over it

Look at the Glacial Landsystems page for a thorough review of the different landforms in terrestrial Antarctica and Patagonia. You could use this as a case study. You need to show understanding of a variety of landscapes from the UK and beyond.

What glacial landforms are there in Britain? Do the Britice Project to help you understand the glaciation of Britain.

Fluvial glacal processes

Understand that glaciers have water in them, on them, beneath them and in front of them. Read the Glacial Hydrology page. What landforms are associated with fluvial glacial activity? Ice sheets have subglacial lakes beneath them. What does this mean for their dynamics?

Periglacial processes

What is periglaciation, and what are the typical landforms associated with it? Take a look at the Periglacial page, which has some examples of periglaciation in Antarctica. You could use James Ross Island as a case study.

Additional items

Your AQA A-Level Geography Syllabus also states that you should understand exploitation and development in tundra and in the Southern Ocean, and the future of Antarctica, considering issues of conservation, protection, development and sustainability.

Coastal Environments

Sea level change is a key part of your Coastal Environments A-Level module. Sea level rise is intrinsically linked to glaciers and glaciation, and you should take a look at the page on Sea Level Rise on this website.

What is the difference between eustatic and isostatic sea level rise? What is the impact of present and predicted sea level rise? How much will sea levels rise in the next hundred years?

Contemporary Geographical Issues

One of the options in the AQA Geography A-Level syllabus is Weather and climate and associated hazards. There is extensive information on this website relating to Global Climate Change. You should understand:

Global Warming

Evidence for global warming over the last 20,000 years. There is lots of information on this on the Climate Change page.

Causes and effects of global warming

Understand the causes and effects of global warming on a global scale (for example, with relation to sea level rise), and on a chosen tropical region and on the British Isles.

Responses to global warming

Understand international, national and local responses to global warming.

Case studies

The themes and issues specified in your syllabus should be made relevant with the use of case studies. This website has lots of examples of case studies you can use in your essays and exams. Find an example for each of the points of the syllabus and learn it so that you can write about a specific case study in your exams.

Geography Fieldwork Investigation

You are also required to undertake an independent research project as part of your A2 A-Level Geography syllabus.

You will be assessed on your fieldwork skills as well as your findings. You can read about this on the Geography Fieldwork Investigation page.

Before you start, you need to define a research question or hypothesis. Take a look at the Research Design page to help you.

Glacial sedimentology in a small exposure in the Solway Firth
Glacial sedimentology in a small exposure in the Solway Firth

Perhaps you want to take a look at some of the fabulous glacial geology in your local area. Take a look at the Techniques in Glacial Geology for some ideas.

Do the Projects suggested to help you understand some of these tasks.

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