Water and carbon cycles

About this core theme

This core theme focuses on how the carbon and water cycles play a key role in supporting life on Earth. Study must take place within a systems framework emphasising the integrated nature of land, earth and atmosphere. Through the study of both the carbon and water cycles, students will discover the physical processes which control them over a range of times, spaces and scales. Knowledge of the distribution and size of the most important stores of carbon and water on land, the oceans, the atmosphere or cryosphere will also be required, along with the factors driving change in the size of these stores over time and in space.

There is also an opportunity to discover the links between the two cycles using climate change as a key context for exploration of the role of feedbacks within and between the two cycles. Students will also use and explore a range of quantitative skills within this theme, including an understanding of simple mass balance, unit conversions, and the analysis and presentation of field data.

Resources to support your teaching

Top Spec Geography: Energy: The Burning Questions by Sally Garrington with Sue Warn

This book investigates a series of burning questions about present and future energy use by humans. Patterns of energy supply and consumption are explored with an investigation into what is driving the shift away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable resources. The role of geopolitics is another focus to assess the impacts, both negative and positive, on energy supply. Much new technology already exists to help us reduce the impact of our energy demands on the planet and the global will to do so is now developing.

Article bundles

Carbon and water cycles presentation

This presentation was produced for a GA CPD event by Professor Martin Evans. It focuses particularly on peatlands. It is free for members to download.

Geography Matters: The Carbon Cycle

This bundle of articles have been written by members of the GA’s Post-16 and HE Phase Committee and published in their annual ‘Geography Matters’ newsletter. These four articles (download contents page) have been selected to support teachers when planning to teach about the carbon cycle and climate change, and are available to GA members.

Climate change: journal article bundle (Geography)

This bundle of five articles were published in the journal, Geography, an internationally renowned academic journal which publishes high-level research. These five articles (download contents page) have been selected as they offer subject knowledge for teachers on the carbon cycle and climate change. The bundle is available to buy with substantial discounts for GA members.

Water and carbon cycles: journal article bundle (Teaching Geography)

These articles were published in the journal, Teaching Geography, the GA’s journal for secondary geography teachers. These four articles (download contents page) offer advice and guidance for teaching the ‘Water and carbon cycles’ theme. The bundle is available to buy with substantial discounts for GA members.


These short videocasts can be used in lessons with students.

Climate, water insecurity, consumption

In this three-minute video aimed at A level and university students, Professor Danny Dorling talks about how a changing world will increase the natural hazards that we face. Cartograms are used to demonstrate the threat from changing water resources, and how this will have knock-on effects with food production and other industries.

Teaching resources



Investigating climate Change

Climate change is an important and historic geographical process which looks into the past, present and future. But what is the evidence for climate change? What causes it, and what impact will it have on environments and people? The Royal Meteorological Society’s climate change updates series for geography teachers helps answer these questions, and acts as a summary for geography teachers and secondary and post 16 students investigating climate change, based on data chosen from recent reports on climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel.

Water crisis in Las Vegas

The American southwest is an important economic and environmental region located in an extremely arid climate zone. The main water resource is the Colorado River which flows from the Rockies down to the Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of California. The region is currently in the grip of the worst drought in living memory which could threaten the viability of famous cities like Las Vegas. With the population of the Colorado Basin set to almost double to 77 million by 2060 and a drier climate predicted, does the Southwest have a sustainable future?

Flooding case studies

Flooding from rivers or the sea is a natural hazard that has a major impact on people and the environment. 4.6 million people in England and Wales are at risk from flooding from rivers or the sea. Building in floodplains means there are now over 2.3 million properties in areas that could flood. We cannot prevent floods, but we can manage the risk of flooding. Flood risk is a combination of two components: the chance (or probability) of flooding and the impact (or consequences) of flooding. The effects of climate change causing rising sea levels and wetter, stormier winters will increase the risk of flooding.

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