River Habitats and Biogeochemistry – Assessment and Monitoring


This module will introduce a broad understanding of river chemistry, biology and habitat characteristics, the processes controlling the variability of these in the natural environment, and a range of river habitat and water quality assessment and monitoring techniques.

The course is multidisciplinary, introducing chemical, biological and ecological concepts to students of all academic backgrounds, within the context of river habitats, sediment biogeochemistry and catchment hydrology. There is a strong focus on water quality and the major nutrient cycles (carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus); ecological and microbial processes, biological adaptations and use of organisms as indicators of habitat and water quality. Impacts of anthropogenic activities, and how these are measured, monitored and regulated, is also an important theme.

Methods to map, measure and sample the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of rivers will be discussed and then applied on a local watercourse. The historical development and advantages and disadvantages of different approaches will be considered in the context of changing pressures on river systems and current legislation. This module will also use research-led case studies to explore the potential impact of biogeochemical and ecological data on environmental policy and land use management.

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • Understand how natural and anthropogenic factors influence river habitat and water quality. Have a critical understanding of legislation driving water quality classification and monitoring strategies;
  • Be proficient in a range of techniques used in habitat and water quality assessment and monitoring, and be able to design and implement a river assessment programme;
  • Identify the biogeochemical controls on the main nutrient cycles (C, N, P, S) within fluvial catchments, and how they are impacted by environmental change (climate and anthropogenic activity);
  • Assess environmental chemistry as a tracer of biogeochemical process.


  • Coursework (essay and oral presentation) 
  • Written examination
  • 2 x 5 minute workshop presentation (5%).