GEOS2721 - Australian Surface Environments and Landforms

We interact with the Earth’s surface environments every day: when we play in the sand at the beach on a sunny day or dodge puddles on the footpath whilst walking to UNSW in the rain.  At a larger scale, human existence is vitally connected to surface environments such as rivers and estuaries for fishing and soils for agriculture. 

In ASEL (GEOS 2721 Australian Surface Environments and Landforms) we shall consider the diversity of processes and factors that shape the environment around us.  An environment is a place on the Earth’s surface that is characterised by having different physical, chemical and biological processes to the places that surround it. The result of these processes, acting over time, is the reshaping of the land surface through erosion and sediment deposition, or the transformation of sediments into soil profiles. Combined with deeper-seated processes, such as volcanic activity, these produce the variety of landforms and sediment accumulations, including beaches, mountains, lakes, reefs and deltas, that make the world such an interesting and scenic place. In particular we will examine the morphology, evolution and behaviour of rivers and coastal systems, and the types of soils that form in these environments.

The concepts introduced and discussed in the lectures are reinforced through laboratory tasks and field tutorials.  The landscape and features we discuss in the classes and labs must be observed by student’s first hand and so a compulsory field trip is a major focal point of the course.

Session 2, 2018

6 units of credit

Hours per week: 2 hours lectures, up to 3 hours practicals, plus a three-day field trip and a half day coastal field tutorial.

Current handbook entry Current timetable 2018 Course outline

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: David Edwards

David Edwards and students discussing vegetation and coastal sand dune formation. Photo by Mira van derLay.

What does this course cover?

In this course we will study the geomorphology and sedimentology of Australia's; physical landscapes. Geomorphology deals with the arrangement of landforms and the processes that shape them, while sedimentology is the scientific study of sediments, sedimentary rocks, and the processes by which they are formed.
The main emphasis in this course will be on the processes acting in modern-day environments, as a basis for understanding both the dynamics of the Earth’s surface today and the history of the Earth’s environments preserved in modern and ancient sediments.
The course emphasises the practical application of theory in environmental earth science with the laboratories and field work designed to give you experience in field research and working as part of a team. A variety of software packages will be used to enhance computing skills during this course.

The beauty and majesty of Carrington Falls.  One of the many stops on the South Coast field trip. Photo by Don Page.
Major topics covered:
  1. Australian environments and landform evolution;
  2. Glacial landforms and sediments;
  3. Fluvial (river) systems and environments including catchment hydrology, flow hydraulics, stream channels and floodplains;
  4. Coastal systems including deltas, estuaries, beaches and dunes.
  5. Properties of sediments and their role as indicators of environmental change;
  6. Formation and Properties of soils
Students observing ancient slump deposits preserved in Wandrawandian Siltstone at Ulladulla Lighthouse. Photo by David Edwards.

Where does this course fit into my degree?

Australian Surface Environments and Landforms is a Stage 2 course for a range of students completing programs such as earth sciences, environmental management or physical geography. It will help prepare those students interested in honours, or careers in research or field work.
The course involves a mix of theoretical and general material delivered in lectures with a major emphasis on practical skills in laboratories. The field trips provide a critical synthesis of these two components whereby students can interpret the landscape using their knowledge base and also through the collection and interpretation of data.
By the end of this course students should be able to understand the basic principles that control the formation of different features of the physical landscape. Students should be able to interpret how these controls determine the mix of processes that shape the physical environment that we can observe today and see preserved in the sediment and rock record.

Fieldwork on the Minnamurra River at Jamberoo during the South Coast Field Trip. Photo by David Edwards.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a co-requisite?

It is recommended that students have taken either GEOS1701 - Environmental Systems, Processes and Issues or GEOS 1211 - Earth and Environmental Science.
The course is complementary with the following second year courses (although there is no requirement to take them):

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

This course includes a mandatory, 3-day field trip, and will incur a personal cost to students of approximately $220 for transport and accommodation at Jamberoo on the South Coast of NSW. This trip is scheduled to run at the end of Week 7 from Fri 7th Sept - Sun 9th Sept (dates to be confirmed).
There is also a half day field tutorial held at Maroubra Beach later in the session.

Is there anything else I should know?

In the UNSW MyExperience survey for Session 2, 2016, 89% of respondents agreed with the statement “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of the course”.

Student comments included the following:

  • “The field trip was one of the most enjoyable and efficiently run field trips I have been on”
  • “The course was framed in a really coherent and balanced way that built slowly on the concepts which culminated in an 'ah-ha' moment for me after the field trip, where everything clicked.”
  • “field trips were relevant to what we were learning and it was localized to the region we live in, but still relatable globally”

I took this course a while ago and need proof of what was covered.

2015 Course Outline


NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).