Course Title: The Hydrosphere

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: The Hydrosphere

Credit Points: 12.00

Important Information:

Please note that this course may have compulsory in-person attendance requirement for some teaching activities. If a course has compulsory in-person attendance for some teaching activities or assessment, you will need to comply with your local state/national vaccination mandate/rules/guidelines for on-campus attendance and assessment that apply when the course starts and throughout the duration of the entire course. The applicable vaccine mandate may require you to have COVID vaccinations or an approved medical vaccination exemption to attend RMIT in-person activities. Please also read this RMIT Enrolment Procedure as it relates to vaccination and your study at RMIT:

Please check your Canvas course shell to see if this course requires mandatory in-person attendance closer to when the course starts, as the situation might change quickly due to changes in your local state/national directive regarding in-person course attendance.


Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


135H Applied Sciences


Sem 1 2006,
Sem 1 2007,
Sem 1 2008,
Sem 1 2009,
Sem 1 2010,
Sem 1 2011,
Sem 1 2012,
Sem 1 2013,
Sem 1 2014,
Sem 1 2015,
Sem 1 2016


City Campus


171H School of Science


Sem 1 2017,
Sem 1 2018,
Sem 1 2019,
Sem 1 2020,
Sem 1 2021,
Sem 1 2022

Course Coordinator: Dr Jeff Hughes

Course Coordinator Phone: +61 3 9925 3370

Course Coordinator Email:

Course Coordinator Location: Building 3 Level 2 Room 16

Course Coordinator Availability: Email to check availability

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities

You should have gained a first-year level knowledge of basic earth sciences by completing the course ENVI1146 The Changing Environment or equivalent studies.

 You may be able to demonstrate that you already have the skills and knowledge gained in The Hydrosphere. Contact the course coordinator if you think you may be 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 groundwaters; 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, thermal classifications; 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 contributes to the development of the following Program Learning Outcomes at AQF level 7:

  • PLO-1   Understanding science. Demonstrate a coherent understanding of environmental science.
  • PLO-2   Scientific knowledge. Exhibit depth and breadth of environmental science knowledge.
  • PLO-3   Inquiry and problem solving. Critically analyse and solve problems in environmental science.
  • PLO-4   Communication. Be an effective communicator of environmental sciences.
  • PLO-5   Personal and professional responsibility. Be accountable for individual learning and scientific work in environmental science

.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. work effectively, responsibly, ethically and safely in an individual or team context.

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 skill sets, 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 textbooks on physical hydrology and on oceanography useful.

Overview of Assessment


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 (Leaning & Teaching).

Assessment for this course consists of:

Assessment Task 1: Field Work

Weighting (50% Hurdle), 

This assessment task supports CLOs 2, 3, 4, 5

Assessment Hurdle: You must achieve a minimum of 25% out of the 50% allocated to the fieldwork in order to pass this course.

Assessment Task 2: Quantitative Online Test

Weighting (10%)

This assessment task supports CLOs 1, 2 & 5.

Assessment Task 3: An end of semester take home test

Weighting (40%)

This assessment task supports CLOs 1, 2, 4 & 5.