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, and 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 course 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 will investigate the different environmental niches where wildlife flourishes, and the strategies some species have developed to exploit them. You will 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 course, you will learn about their current management and fate in the near future.
The course is based on specially written OU study materials which have polar-focused activities and film clips from the spectacular Frozen Planet BBC television series about the environment, the science, and the wildlife.
By the end of this course you should be able to:
Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, language, concepts and principles relating to polar science. In particular:
- core concepts in physics, biology, chemistry, geology and basic mathematics that underpin our understanding of the polar world
- processes and interactions (physical, biological, chemical and geological) which shape the polar environment at different temporal and spatial scales
- terminology, nomenclature and classification systems used in polar science
- methods of acquiring, interpreting and analysing information from the polar world
- the value of, and need for, multi-disciplinary approaches in advancing knowledge.
The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance learning:
- The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
- The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
- An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
- A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)
Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.
Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.
This course will require around 100 hours to complete.