Course Title: The Hydrosphere

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: The Hydrosphere

Credit Points: 12.00


Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


135H Applied Sciences


Sem 1 2016


City Campus


171H School of Science


Sem 1 2017

Course Coordinator: A/Prof Graeme Allinson

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 99253561

Course Coordinator Email:

Course Coordinator Location: 3.2.23

Course Coordinator Availability: By appointment

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities

No Pre-requisites

You maybe able to demonstrate the required skills and knowledge before you start this course. Contact your course coordinator if you think you maybe eligible for recognition of prior learning. For further information go to Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) in Higher Education

Course Description

This course covers the principles and mechanisms whereby water cycles through and interacts with the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. Field work provides skills in in-situ measurement of water quality parameters and sampling in rivers, estuaries, wetlands and of groundwater; and first-hand knowledge of our local water supply systems. 

Topics covered typically include: 

Universal Water – formation of water, isotopic fractionation, distribution in the universe, our solar system and on Earth. Global water cycle compartments and the concept of residence time. Common water quality parameters. 

Rivers – Catchments, river structure, channels, riparian zones. Sources of water, discharge, ratings curves and hydrographs. Flow profiles and principle of continuity. Pool and riffle zones, mass transport, global averages and periodic trends. 

Groundwater – surface infiltration, percolation, unsaturated and saturated zones, porosity and permeability, water table. Groundwater flow, Darcy’s Law, potentiometric surface. Aquifer types, recharge, discharge, depletion, saline intrusion. 

Estuaries & Wetlands – Estuarine types, stratification and mixing, indexes of mixing, conservative and non-conservative solutes. Wetlands – types: natural and constructed, physical, chemical and biological processes. 

Lakes & Reservoirs – lake basins, nutrient status and life cycle.

Water sources and water composition; residence time calculations for lake waters; thermal stratification, turnover and inverse stratification and thermal classifications; epilimnion, metalimnion and hypolimnion; chemical stratification; water circulation; difficulties in obtaining representative lake water samples. 

Water Supply – protected and unprotected catchments, collection and distribution system, surface water potabilisation; desalination. 

The Ocean – Seawater composition and uniformity; salinity, surface variability; temperature, thermocline, halocline and pycnocline; properties of water bodies (masses). Surface currents, gyres, convergence and divergence, upwelling and downwelling; thermohaline circulation. Arctic Ocean circulation and vertical stratification; Southern Ocean and Antarctica; equatorial and Australian currents.


Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

This course also contributes to the following AQF 9 Program Learning Outcomes:

1. A Body of Knowledge

  • PLO 1.1: that includes the understanding of recent developments in the understanding of environmental processes and the technological advances in measurement techniques, remediation processes and pollution control
  • PLO 1.2: of the research principles and methods applicable to studying the chemical, biological and physical processes occurring in the environment
  • PLO 1.3 of the regulatory frameworks and ethical principles relevant to the practice of environmental science and associated technologies

2. Skills

  • PLO 2.1: cognitive skills which demonstrate mastery of theoretical knowledge about environmental processes enabling critical reflection on environmental theory and professional practice or scholarship
  • PLO 2.2: cognitive, technical and creative skills enabling you to investigate analyse and synthesise complex information, problems, concepts and theories about the environment, and to apply established theories to different areas of knowledge or practice concerning the environment
  • PLO 2.3: cognitive, technical and creative skills to enable you to generate and evaluate complex ideas about the environmental processes and concepts at an abstract level
  • PLO 2.4: communication skills to enable you to justify and interpret theoretical propositions, methodologies, conclusions and professional decisions to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • PLO 2.5: technical and communication skills to design, evaluate, implement, analyse and theorise about developments that contribute to environmental professional practice and scholarship

3. Application of knowledge and skills

  • PLO 3.1: with creativity and initiative to new situations in your role as an environmental professional practitioner and/or in your further studies
  • PLO 3.2: with high level personal autonomy and accountability
  • PLO 3.3: with due regard to ethical conduct, the law and the safety of yourself and others around you


On successful completion of this course you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a broad and coherent knowledge and understanding of the hydrosphere;
  2. Gather, synthesize and critically evaluate information from a range of sources;
  3. Collect, record, interpret and draw conclusions from scientific data;
  4. Communicate effectively results, information or arguments on the hydrosphere, in writing;
  5. Be an independent and self-directed learner;
  6. Work effectively, responsibly, ethically and safely in an individual or team context.
  7. Demonstrate knowledge that environmental science has interdisciplinary connections with other sciences.



Overview of Learning Activities

This course offers you the following learning opportunities:

  • Lectorials where syllabus material will be presented, explained and illustrated with examples;
  • Participation in field work;
  • Briefing and debriefing sessions for fieldwork which develop an integrated understanding of the subject matter;
  • Completion of on-line tests and written structured field reports
  • Private study, working through the coursework and other learning materials and gaining practice at solving conceptual and numerical problems.

These activities will help enhance your employability by further developing your knowledge and skills set, teamwork, oral and written communication and independent learning skills.

Total Study Hours

RMIT stipulates that your total workload for a 12cp course should be 120 hours (Course Design Procedure, Section 3.2).

This course is typically 4hr/week for lectorials, briefing and debriefing sessions and fieldwork (which is concentrated into six activities).

You should devote the remaining time (up to 6hr/week) to private study, including exam preparation and completion of on-line tests and field reports.



Overview of Learning Resources

The course Canvas site will give you easy access to learning materials such as theory notes, field trip details, briefing and debriefing notes and other resources, assessment task details and electronic submission folders.

The library has a subject guide for Environmental Science.

There is no textbook for this course. You may find that introductory texbooks on physical hydrology and on oceanography useful.


Overview of Assessment

Note that:

☒ All hurdle requirements for this course are indicated clearly in the assessment regime that follows, against the relevant assessment task(s) and all have been approved by the College Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching).

Assessment for this course consists of:

Weekly on line journal (20%) – including summary reporting on Hydrosphere-related environmental issue in the media and comment on colleagues’ submissions - will assess CLOs 4 and 7

 Field Work - including draft reports, submission and participation in peer-review, and subsequent submission of final reports (50%) - will assess CLOs 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6.

For OHS and professional practice reasons, field work has two hurdle requirements:

You must attend the fieldwork suitably prepared and participate in that fieldwork exercise in order to be eligible to submit the corresponding assessments.

Assessment Hurdle: You must achieve a minimum of 20% out of the 50% allocated to the fieldwork in order to pass this course.

An end of semester examination (30%), which will assess CLOs 1, 2, 4 & 5.