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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

GEOG3690 Tropical forests and sustainable development

20 creditsClass Size: 400

Module manager: Dr Alan Grainger

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

This module is mutually exclusive with

GEOG3034Tropical Forests: past, present and future
GEOG3341Environment and Development in South-East Asia

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Tropical forests are one of the most important ecosystems on the planet, containing approximately half of global biodiversity, 40% of terrestrial carbon stocks and providing resources that directly and indirectly support millions of people. As a result, achieving sustainable development of these regions and reducing the rate that these ecosystems are being cleared and degraded has become an emblematic struggle of the conservation movement. This module explores the geological history of tropical forests, the role these ecosystems currently play in the earth system and the threats and debates that are determining their future. Drawing on examples and case studies from all the major tropical forest regions of the world, the module also looks at how forests and land in the humid tropics are actually used and managed, and how this reflects the trade-offs between the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development. It explores theories of sustainable development, the methods that have been developed to model and monitor trends in land use and forest cover in the humid tropics, and how these methods are being employed in international schemes to mitigate, and adapt to, global climate change.


On completion of this module, students should have:
(I) A detailed understanding of the role that tropical forests play in the earth system.
(II) A detailed understanding of the literatures on modelling and monitoring changes in land use and forest cover in the humid tropics and their role in sustainable development.

Learning outcomes
1. An understanding of the role that processes occurring on geological timescales play in determining current patterns in the biosphere.
2. An understanding of how climate change and human activity is perturbing tropical forest environments.
3. A detailed understanding of the distribution and dynamics of land use and forest cover in the humid tropics, national and international political debates about improving the sustainability of land use and forest management and conservation, and techniques for modelling and monitoring changes in land use and forest cover in the humid tropics and their role in sustainable development.


Lectures and seminars in Semester 1 typically cover: the geological history of tropical forests; the resilience of tropical forests to natural and anthropogenic environmental changes; the practices of indigenous communities; the diversity and composition of tropical forests; the carbon dynamics of tropical forests and their role in the climate system; current threats to Amazonian rain forests; trends in the sustainable use and conservation of Amazonian forests; and the potential for Amazonian forest dieback in the 21st century as climate changes.

Lectures and discussions in Semester 2 typically cover: an introduction to deforestation, forest degradation and sustainable development; spatio-temporal patterns in shifting cultivation, permanent agriculture and agroforestry systems; rational land use planning and the role of science; the sustainability of tropical forest management and pressures to increase it: patterns in international trade in tropical hardwood; mathematical modelling of short-term and long-term trends in forest area and timber production; monitoring deforestation using international statistics and satellite observations; and the use of modelling and monitoring methods for climate change mitigation activities.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Discussion forum11.001.00
Group learning141.0014.00
Private study hours146.00
Total Contact hours54.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Private study will consist of reading key references associated with course and preparing for and undertaking assessments. Group learning will consist of preparation for seminars - one hour per seminar: students will be allocated to groups and each group will be involved in leading a seminar in both semester 1 and 2.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Essay during semester one will enable feedback to be received before the second essay is set during semester two.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2250 words45.00
Essay2250 words45.00
Oral Presentation10 minutes10.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 08/05/2017


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