Geography of global change

Number of credits: 6 ECTS Price: 840 €
Price for UAB students*: 200 €
*Max. 5 places
Teaching Language: English Place: UAB Campus

Teaching Period: 25 June to 12 July


Professor: Graham Mortyn

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Enrolment guidelines


Graham Mortyn earned BS and MS degrees in Earth Science and a PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography (University of California at San Diego, UCSD). Prior to academia he worked as a hydrogeologist. He was an Assistant Professor in California (California State University, Fresno, CSUF) before UAB arrival in 2004, joining the Department of Geography and ICTA.


Contents overview

The main objective of the course is to explore causes, processes and consequences of global environmental change in the world today, with particular emphasis on human influence. Despite being global in extent, this change may manifest itself uniquely and differently depending on the temporal and spatial scales examined. The course considers the Earth as a system, and bases everything on the concepts of Earth System Science. Despite global-scale influences, more local-scale manifestations of such processes will also be explored and examined. Global environmental change is partly driven by human activities, with sometimes unexpected and indirect consequences. Some of these global change processes have become the subject of international attention and agreements, with the aim of minimizing negative impacts. 

With regard to more specific objectives, the course will be subdivided into introductory concepts and distinctions, and followed by distinct environmental spheres of impact, including the atmosphere, the oceans, and the land surfaces. With these distinctions in mind, constant exploration of more focused elements will occur, considering human population growth, urbanization, water and land use, transportation, energy and other resource consumption, pollution, and more.


Block 1: Introduction to Global Change

  • The Earth as a System.
  • Spatial and temporal scales (e.g. human, geologic, and all in between).
  • Global change vs. climate change, similarities and distinctions.

Block 2: The Atmosphere

  • Defining the structure and composition (baseline for change).
  • Greenhouse gases.
  • Industrial pollution.

Block 3: The Oceans

  • Role in global and climate change.
  • Non-climatic global changes (e.g. fisheries, pollution, exotic species invasions).
  • Specific global change issues (monsoons, ENSO, hurricanes, etc.). Concrete look at the 2017 Atlantic hurricane events.

Block 4: Terrestrial Impacts

  • The nature of land surfaces.
  • Specific terrestrial-based concerns (e.g. biosphere).
  • Causes for concern and likely futuristic developments.

Teaching / learning activities

  • Lecture presentations
  • Readings of relevant articles, and book content
  • Both individual and small group activity and discussion of concepts
  • Both individual and small group activity and discussion of concepts question and answer/critical dialog
  • Question and answer / critical dialog
  • Field trip to Plaça Espanya and Montjuïc areas of Barcelona, to explore many themes of urban global change

  • Block 1 Thematic Question Answers, due Wednesday of Week 1
  • Block 2 Thematic Question Answers, due Friday of Week 1
  • Block 3 Thematic Question Answers, due Wednesday of Week 2
  • Block 4 Thematic Question Answers, due Monday of Week 3
  • Final Exam Tuesday of Week 3

With respect to the final mark, the thematic questions will be worth 50% (e.g. 12.5% each) and the exam will be worth 50%.

Links and references

  • Gugler, J. (2004). World Cities. Globalization, Development and Inequality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnston, R. J.; Taylor, P. J.; Watts, M. J. (eds) (2002). Geographies of Global Change. Oxford: Blackwell (2ª edició).
  • Mannion, A. M. (1991). Global environmental change. Harlow, Essex: Longman.
  • Marsh, W. M. and Grossa, J. M. Jr. (1996). Environmental Geography. Science, Land Use and Earth Systems. New York: John Wiley.
  • Oldfield, F. (2005). Environmental Change. Key Issues and Alternative Perspectives. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Steffen, W. et al. (2004). Global Change and the Earth System: A Planet Under Pressure. New York, Springer.
  • Turner, B. T. II; Clark, W. C.; Kates, R. W.; Richards, J. F.; Mathews, J. T. and Meyer, W. B. (eds) (1990). The Earth as transformed by human action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Online Resources
  •     Anderson, David M; Overpeck, Jonathan T; Gupta, Anil K. (2002). Increase in the Asian Southwest Monsoon During the Past Four Centuries. Science, 297, pp.596- 599. Retrieved from
  •     E. Black, David. (2002). The Rains May Be A-Comin’. Science, 297, pp. 528-529. Retrieved from
  •     Emanuel, Kerry. (2005). Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones over the past 30 years. Nature, 436, pp. 686-688. Retrieved from
  •     Erdman, Jonathan. (2017). 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season Now Seventh Most Active in History. Retrieved from
  •     McPhaden, Michael J; Zebiak, Stephen E; Glantz, Michael H. (2006). ENSO as an Integrating Concept in Earth Science. Science, 314, pp. 1740-1745. Retrieved from
  •     NASA. (n.d.). GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. Retrieved from
  •     Normile, Dennis. (2013). Clues to Supertyphoon's Ferocity Found in the Western Pacific. Science, 342, pp. 1027. Retrieved from
  •     The Guardian. (2013). Climate-warming gas in atmosphere passes 400ppm milestone – interactive. Retrieved from

There will also be selected readings from journal articles, and other links, highlighted during the course. Some links above are to journal articles.