Dynamic Earth II - Biogeochemistry & Climate - CHE00012H

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  • Department: Chemistry
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Kirsty Penkman
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19
    • See module specification for other years: 2017-18

Module summary

The module concerns the exploitation of chemistry and chemical approaches to understand the nature of past environments (both geological and archaeological) and long term changes to climate.

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2018-19

Module aims

Environmental change raises important questions regarding the long-term well-being of our planet. Although it is apparent that certain changes result from man’s activities, it is clear that natural variations play a major and sometimes dominant role. Organic residues preserved in the rock and fossil record can inform our understanding of the nature of living communities that existed in the past and the prevailing environmental conditions both on geological and archaeological timescales. Changes over time in the distributions of such molecular fossils reflect environmental changes, which often relate to climatic influences. The module introduces the underlying concepts and analytical techniques that allow the structures and stable isotopic compositions of fossil and sedimentary organic residues to be exploited. Case studies reveal how records of changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, sea surface and mean air temperatures and relative sea-level can be revealed over geological timescales. Examples from the field of Scientific Archaeology include recognition of signatures of diet and species identification.

Module learning outcomes

To develop an understanding of:

  • Past climates and the role of chemistry in climate control and feedback.
  • Organic carbon as a vehicle for energy transfer via production and decomposition.
  • The use of molecular fossils to reconstruct past environments and climates.
  • The use of stable isotopes as tracers of the origins of organic matter, diet, and climate change in the past.
  • The use of biomolecular approaches to investigate organisms from the past.

Module content

Past Climate

Past climate on Earth – what, when & how we know.

Ocean-lithosphere and ocean-atmosphere interactions: influences on climate.

Tectonic-scale and orbital-scale climate change.


5 lectures

1 workshop

Biogeochemistry and Climate

Carbon cycling and energy flows in the biosphere.

Microbial production and decomposition of organic matter.

Origins, formation and chemical composition of sedimentary organic matter.

Accumulation and location of organic matter reserves: influences on climate.


5 lectures

1 problem class

Assessment of Archaeological and Geological Palaeoenvironments

Ancient biomolecules; Molecular fossils: stereochemical and chemical transformations, dating, community reconstruction, palaeothermometry and palaeoclimate; Stable isotope biogeochemistry applications for provenancing, climate and diet.


8 lectures

1 problem class

Site Visit: A day visit to examine geological exposures (BJK/KEHP/JETO)

Problem Classes/workshop: 1 x 1 h workshop & 1 x 2h problem classes, associated with each lecture course to provide practice in the application of course material.

Prerequisites: Core Modules 1 – 4 & DE1, or by special permission of the Module Coordinator.

Assessment: 1.5 h examination (Spring Term, Week 1) (70%) plus continuous assessment (30%): student-directed preparation of information resources based on (and augmenting) an aspect of the topics covered in the module.


Task Length % of module mark
Continuous Assessment
N/A 30
University - closed examination
Dynamic Earth II: Biogeochemistry & Climate
1.5 hours 70

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Formative work is provided through the workshops associated with the individual lecture courses.


Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Dynamic Earth II: Biogeochemistry & Climate
1.5 hours 70

Module feedback

The closed examinations are marked typically within 10 days with mark slips (with per-question break-down) being returned to students via supervisors. Outline answers are made available via the Chemistry web pages when the students receive their marks, so that they can assess their own detailed progress/achievement. The examiners reports for each question are made available to the students via the Chemistry web pages. Students receive feedback and marks on their continuous assessment within the 6-week university deadline and before they take the examination.

Indicative reading

A reading list will be provided by the module tutors.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.