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The frozen planet

At any one time during the year, ice and snow cover over one-third of our planet. This course explores the wonder of the polar world and explains how ice has shaped – and controls – our planet. The frozen planet is one of a series of short, five-month 10-credit modules introducing fascinating topics in science. With a choice of start dates, it enables you to try out an area of study before you commit yourself to a longer module, or top up your knowledge and skills between longer modules.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
1 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

Student Reviews

This course was amazing. There is a lot to learn for a 10 credit course (level 1) but well worth...
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A very interesting and informative module. The different activities were engaging and the module language was effective in its teaching....
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What you will study

At any one time during the year ice and snow cover over one-third of our planet. Ice has shaped the landscapes; it determines the structure of the ecosystem and the animals that prosper; it even drives our global climate.

There is more to the two polar regions of our planet than the cold temperatures and hardship we frequently see in the the media. The two poles are very different: a large part of the Arctic is an ocean covered with ice a few metres thick, whilst the Antarctic is mostly covered in ice kilometres thick. But the physical controls on the environment are the same in both cases. In the winter darkness, temperatures decrease and snow and ice advance towards the equator, sometimes leaving the great cities of northern Europe uncomfortable for humans. Yet still, charismatic and well-known wildlife such as whales, walrus, penguins and polar bears flourish in the ecological niches that the polar environment creates. But it is not just the animals – throughout our entire history humans have only known a planet shaped and controlled by ice.

This module is about the science of the frozen planet. It is about the physical controls on the shape and character of our planet over millions of years through to the climate we experience today. You'll investigate the different environmental niches where wildlife flourishes, and the strategies some species have developed to exploit them. You’ll discover the influence of humans on the environment and the motivations and discoveries of the early polar explorers. The poles are justifiably important, but also vulnerable and so, throughout the module, you’ll learn about their current management and fate in the near future.

The module is based on a specially written OU study book and website which has polar-focused activities and film clips from the spectacular Frozen Planet BBC television series about the environment, the science, and the wildlife.

If you’re new to studying science, the module will introduce many new concepts and skills as they are needed, showing how the physical and biological worlds link in two of the planets most striking regions.

Teaching and assessment

Study support

You can contact a team of expert science study advisers through an online discussion forum, and they will be able to help you with academic questions to do with the course and the assessment. There will also be an online discussion forum that you can use to get in touch with study advisers and other students.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online system to submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA).

You have to submit the single piece of written work for assessment after 21 weeks. There will be no other opportunity to complete the module.

Future availability

The frozen planet (S175) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. It will start for the last time in October 2019 – there’s no planned replacement.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school

    Course satisfaction survey

    See the satisfaction survey results for this course.

    Entry requirements

    The course does not assume any previous scientific background and teaches the concepts and skills as they are required. It’s designed for people who are new to the subject area.

    Although a little basic knowledge of general science would be useful, all you need is an interest in the polar regions and how they affect the rest of the planet. You will have to understand some basic science, such as physics, geology and biology in order to complete the course. If you have read popular books and magazines on the subject you will find the module develops your understanding and introduces topics that you have not met before.

    Mathematically you need only to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers. To cope with the printed material, you should be able to understand in outline the sort of articles printed in a broadsheet newspaper (The Daily Telegraph or The Guardian, for example). You should also be able to write your thoughts down comprehensibly.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    05 Oct 2019 See description £502.00

    Registration closes 26/09/19 (places subject to availability)

    October 2019 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a computer, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser.

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2020. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 16/09/2019.

    What's included

    OU study book, study guide, online video and audio activities, interactive map software, website.

    You will need

    A basic scientific calculator.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S175 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.