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Module DXX-2002:
Water, air & soil pollution

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Hilary Ford

Overall aims and purpose

As a professional environmental consultant, environmental engineer, policy advisor or town and country planner you will be expected to understand the underlying principles associated with air, soil and water quality. A major part of this requires an understanding of how manmade pollutants affect the biosphere and the impact on humans and also their impact on plants. This central course in environmental science/management is therefore designed for students with the above training in mind. It deals with major global environmental topics such as heavy metals, microplastics, pesticides, human pathogens, biodiversity loss from rivers, acid rain, salinity, water scarcity etc. In addition it covers aspects of environmental UV exposure and elevated ozone, radioactivity and eutrophication. This material is provided with reference to underpinning scientific information (e.g. on soil, water and air) and complementary material on current UK policy. It also looks at the state of the environment at a national and global scale. This second year unit further develops the information provided in the first year introductory module of Ecosystem Function and Services and provides the groundwork for later modules dealing with more specific environmental soil issues (e.g. Tenerife Field Course). The module comprises 23 lectures and the equivalent of 4 practical sessions and runs in the first semester. The practicals include 1 field trip (to Henfaes to look at soil, water and plants and 3 lab classes on aspects of air, water and soil pollution. The practicals will also enable students to use the basic statistical skills they learnt in Year 1 in real life situations. In summary, the purpose of the module is as follows: 1. To provide students with knowledge of the current environmental pollution problems associated with the terrestrial biosphere in a UK and global context. 2. To provide students with a theoretical knowledge of the chemical and biological nature of pollutants. 3. To provide students with a practical knowledge of how to determine pollutant concentrations, the effects of pollutants on vegetation, and how to do environmental risk assessment.

Course content

The lecture order is subject to change in order, but will include the following topics:

Lecture 1: Introduction to soil quality

Lecture 2: Key concept: Soil water

Lecture 3: Key concept: Nutrient cycling in ecosystems

Lecture 4: Key concept: Soil biology and biodiversity

Lecture 5: Key concept: Greenhouse gas emissions from soil

Lecture 6: Key concept: Nutrient function and plant uptake

Lecture 7: Key concept: The rhizosphere

Lecture 8: Key concept: Mycorrhizas and N2 fixation

Lecture 9: Global problems I: Soil salinity

Lecture 10: Global problems II: Soil acidity

Lecture 11: Global problems III: Human and animal pathogens

Lecture 12: Global problems IV: Organic pollutants

Lecture 13: Global problems V: Food security

Lecture 14: Global problems VI: Heavy metals

Lecture 15: Global problems VII: Water use and conservation

Lecture 16: Global problems VIII: Soil erosion

Lecture 17: Global problems IX: Microplastics

Lecture 18: Global problems I: Ammonia, methane and nitrous oxide

Lecture 19: Global problems II: Indoor air pollution

Lecture 20: Global problems III: Radioactivity

Lecture 21: Global problems I: Pesticides and pollutants

Lecture 22: Global problems II: Eutrophication

Lecture 23 Global problems III: Sewage and waterborne diseases

Assessment Criteria


Grade C- to Grade B+ - Strong knowledge - Understands most but not all - Evidence of background study - Focussed answer with good structure - Arguments presented coherently - Mostly free of factual/computational errors -Some limited original interpretation - Well known links between topics are described - Problems addressed by existing methods/approaches -Good presentation with accurate communication - Good use of background reading material within work


Grade A- and above -Comprehensive knowledge - Detailed understanding - Extensive background study - Highly focussed answer and well structured - Logically presented and defended arguments - No factual/computational errors - Original interpretation - New links between topics are developed - New approach to a problem - Excellent presentation with very accurate communication - Excellent use of background reading material within work and especially journal articles


Grade D- to D+ - Knowledge of key areas/principles only - Some weaknesses in understanding of main areas - Limited evidence of background study - Answer only poorly focussed on question and with some irrelevant material and poor structure - Arguments presented but lack coherence - Several factual/computational errors - No original interpretation - Only major links between topics are described - Limited problem solving - Many weaknesses in presentation and accuracy - No use of background reading

Learning outcomes

  1. Understand what regulates air, soil and water quality from a scientific and legislative perspective.

  2. Understand what properties control pollutant movement in the environment and how they may be controlled.

  3. Observe in the field, different contaminated soils and the factors which caused this pollution.

  4. Gain a practical knowledge of chemical analysis methods to quantitatively determine pollution. levels.

  5. Work collaboratively within practical classes communicate data effectively

  6. Conduct statistical analyses of data and critically assess the results

  7. Produce scientific reports

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Practical Report 1 (Soil quality) 30
Practical Report 2 (Soil and water pollution) 10
Exam for Water, Air and Soil Pollution 60

Teaching and Learning Strategy


23*1 hour lectures taught by a range of staff within SNS


1*4 hour field practical class. The practical class forms the foundation for the first 2 lab classes and is compulsory. The field practical is based at Henfaes. the field class demonstrates soil quality assessment techniques in the field (focused on a saltmarsh and agricultural grassland).


3*3 hour laboratory practicals. The first two sessions are linked to Practical Report 1 (Soil quality) and the third practical is related to Practical Report 2 (Soil pollution and remediation).

Private study

Private and guided self-study. This will be for background reading and preparing practical reports etc.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Awareness of the concepts of spatial and temporal scale in understanding processes and relationships.
  • Appreciation of the reciprocal nature of human-environmental relationships.
  • Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
  • Preparation of effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.
  • Understand the provisional nature of information and appreciate competing and alternative explanations.
  • Collect and record data generated by a diverse range of methods.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation
  • Demonstrate awareness of the importance of risk assessment and relevant legislation


Resource implications for students

They need to have their own lab coat for the laboratory practicals. They need outdoor wear (boots, waterproofs etc) for the field class.

Talis Reading list

Reading list

Essential Soil Science A Clear and Concise Introduction to Soil Science. Deiniol Library Deiniol Book S591 .A84 2001

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: