Dynamic Earth: Origins, Evolution, Biogeochemistry & Climate - CHE00020I

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  • Department: Chemistry
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Kirsty Penkman
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

By understanding how the natural environment functions, we are better placed to evaluate the impact and significance of man’s activities and to exploit Earth’s vast resources sustainably. The Dynamic Earth module sets out to explain how the elements were created, show how the Earth gained its present structure, and to reveal the truly dynamic nature of our planet. The module explains the background to many critical environmental issues and illustrates how chemical approaches are vital to understanding how the environment on Earth has changed over the geological timescale.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2018-19 to Summer Term 2018-19

Module aims

By understanding how the natural environment functions, we are better placed to evaluate the impact and significance of man’s activities and to exploit Earth’s vast resources sustainably. The Dynamic Earth module sets out to explain how the elements were created, show how the Earth gained its present structure, and to reveal the truly dynamic nature of our planet. The module explains the background to many critical environmental issues and illustrates how chemical approaches are vital to understanding how the environment on Earth has changed over the geological timescale.

Hands-on experience of the material will involve a mineralogy practical and a day field-trip to visit geological exposures. The development of a wiki website on chosen course material will engage students more deeply with the inter-disciplinary subjects covered in DE by challenging them to present the material to a wide audience through a web-based medium. They will develop practical knowledge in web-page creation and design, while peer-evaluation of the other students’ contributions will involve critical appraisal of both the content of the web-pages and their teamwork.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content. To develop an understanding of:

  • The origins of the elements and their combination in mineral structures.
  • The mineral compositions and origins of key rock types.
  • The rôle of plate tectonics in defining rock distribution, tectonic and volcanic activity.
  • The main reservoirs of marine and freshwater and their interconnections.
  • Geological timescales and their measurement via radioisotope methods.
  • 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 stable isotopes as tracers in archaeology and earth sciences for the origins of organic matter, diet, and climate change in the past.
  • The use of biomolecular approaches to investigate organisms from the past, using molecular fossils to reconstruct past environments and climates

Academic and graduate skills:

  • Presentation of inter-disciplinary material to a wide audience through a web-based medium.
  • Practical knowledge in web-page creation and design
  • Critical appraisal through peer-evaluation

Module content

Organic and inorganic molecules 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. This 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.

Topics:

Elements and Minerals (RED, 6 lectures, 1×1h problem class)

  • Origins of the elements: the Big Bang, stars, supernovae
  • Chemical evolution of the Earth
  • Chemistry of silicate minerals, ion substitution and phase equilibria

The Geosphere (BJK, 6 lectures, 1×1h problem class)

  • Composition of the Earth
  • Rock compositions, fabrics and facies
  • Plate tectonics and selected features of the geology of the British Isles
  • Stratigraphy and geochronology; radioisotopic and radiogenic dating techniques.

The Hydrosphere (KEHP, 6 lectures, 1×1h problem class)

  • The hydrological cycle and marine and freshwater reservoirs
  • Introduction to chemical oceanography and oceanic equilibria

Archaeological palaeoenvironments (KEHP & JETO, 5 lectures)

  • Ancient biomolecules; molecular fossils and stable isotope biogeochemistry applications for provenancing, climate and diet.

Past Climate (KEHP, 5 lectures )

  • 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

Biogeochemistry and Climate (BJK, 7 lectures, 1×1h problems class)

  • 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

Practical (7h, BJK/RED/KEHP)

A practical examining rocks in hand specimen and by microscopy of thin sections. The practical has two elements:

(i) A directed-study assignment to introduce material and techniques in preparation for the practical. This will be made available via the VLE a week prior to the practical.

(ii) The practical (7 h) involving the study of rocks in hand specimens and by optical mineralogy, culminating in exercises tackling petrological problems.

Site Visit (BJK/KEHP/RED/JETO) and 1×1h field trip briefing: A day visit to examine geological exposures

Assessment: "Archaeological palaeoenvironments" will be assessed through continuous assessment via production of a wiki website, which will include 1×1h workshop to introduce the wiki assessment. The other topics are covered by closed examination; students answer two compulsory questions.

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
Wiki website
N/A 20
University - closed examination
Dynamic Earth: Origins, Evolution, Biogeochemistry & Climate
2 hours 80

Special assessment rules

Non-reassessable

Additional assessment information

The continuous assessment is based on creation of a wiki website on a subject inspired by the "Archaeological palaeoenvironments" course.

This will be introduced during the wiki workshop is on Wednesday Week 6, Spring term. 

Group names and subject preferences will need to be emailed to the module coordinator by Monday Week 9, Spring term.

The wiki websites will be made editable by students on Tuesday Week 9, Spring term.

The wiki websites will be closed for editing on Tuesday Week 2, Summer term, and they will be made visible to all cohort members for peer evaluation.

The deadline for peer evaluation of the wiki websites will be Tuesday Week 3, Summer term. 

For the closed exams, 2 x 25 mark compulsory questions will cover material from across the other 5 lecture courses (Elements & Minerals, Geosphere, Hydrosphere, Biogeochemistry & Climate and Past Climate), the field trip and the practical.

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
University - closed examination
Dynamic Earth: Origins, Evolution, Biogeochemistry & Climate
2 hours 80

Module feedback

Students will receive feedback on their performance in the workshops. They will receive verbal feedback on their progress in the formative workshops, which support lectures, and on the practical and field trip.

For assessed wiki website creation: Students receive formative feedback on their draft websites through a drop-in session. The anonymous peer-evaluation results are provided to students within 2 weeks of their submission deadline. The staff feedback and mark for the wiki websites will be marked within a 4-week deadline.

The closed examinations held in the Summer term are marked typically within 4 weeks with mark slips (with per-question break-down) being returned to students via supervisors in week 10 of the Summer Term. 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.

Indicative reading

To be provided by individual 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.