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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Earth Science

Undergraduate Course: Environmental Geochemistry of the Earth's Surface (EASC08024)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 8 (Year 2 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course focusses on geochemistry of natural water as imprinted by its interaction with local geology. It takes an integrated view of natural and biological (anthropogenic) interactions that shape the earth's surface. Significantly, the approach is based on integrating theoretical geochemistry with practical skills such as (i) fieldwork and sampling design, (ii) data processing and statistical analysis, (iii) geochemical modelling, (iv) environmental remediation.
Course description Environmental geochemistry is about the sources, distribution and interactions of chemical species in the earth system, covering rocks, minerals, soil, water and biology. The surface environment has dominant controls on these interactions because the exposure of minerals to water and biology has the effect speeding up many geological reactions. In this course, we focus on natural waters because the mobility and speciation of chemical elements in natural wasters is central to many of the feedbacks that connect geochemical, biological, and geological processes at Earth¿s surface.
The course is delivered in the form of lectures, geochemical laboratory practical and field trips, the latter designed to showcase the practical applications of your theoretical understanding. Topics/lectures include (1) Controls on the composition of natural waters and classification, role of colloids and their surface chemistry in contolling water composition, energy demand for geochemical reactions and reaction pathways, metabolic pathways exploited by micro-organisms and higher organisms and their impact on nutrient and organic matter (carbon cycling) in the environment, and material cycling in estuarine environments. One weekend field trip to Keswick (lake district) and a day trip to Seafield Pond (near Dunbar). Taken together, these approaches will equip you with vital skills in (i) field observations, (ii) geochemical analysis coupled with data analysis and modelling, leading to (iii) robust scientific interpretation and professional/scientific reporting.

Course content
(1) Controls on the composition of natural waters and classification
(2) Forms of natural dissolved substances in natural waters
(3) Colloids/ mineral surface chemistry surface adsorption reactions
(4) Geochemical reactions, reaction pathways and rate determining reactions
(5) Sources of energy for natural reactions in the natural environments
(6) Autotrophic Metabolism: Living off sunlight and inorganic substances
(7) Heterotrophic metabolism: Living off organic compounds
(8) Organic matter cycling in natural environments
(9) Estuarine Environments
10) Estuarine Circulation
(11) Estuarine Sedimentation
(12) Estuarine Chemistry: Basics
(13) Estuarine Chemistry: Metals
(14) Estuarine Chemistry: Carbon
(15) Estuarine Chemistry: Nitrogen
(16) Human Impacts on Estuaries /revision

There will be two field trips for this course
1. Afternoon trip to (Seafield Pond) Dunbar on Tuesday 20/09/2022 leaving 12:00 hrs ( Grant Institute)
2. Weekend field trip to Lake District (Keswick) 21st -23rd October leaving 21st; 15:00 hrs (Grant Institute)
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites It is RECOMMENDED that students have passed Earth Dynamics (EASC08001) AND Evolution of the Living Earth (EASC08023)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Higher Chemistry
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  33
Course Start Semester 1
Course Start Date
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 18, Fieldwork Hours 16, Feedback/Feedforward Hours 2, Formative Assessment Hours 2, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 136 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 50 %, Coursework 50 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Assessment Details
Written Exam: 50%, Course Work: 50 % based on 4 laboratory reports (20%), field report (30%).

There will be an exam in December consisting of a mixture of short answer questions and essay questions. The course work will be based on written reports on each of the practical laboratory carried out during laboratory sessions and the Keswick field trip.

RESIT: Student failing the course by not achieving a 40% on the aggregate of course work and exam marks will be offered an exam only resit in August. The resit exam will count for 100%

Assessment Deadlines
Laboratory reports should be submitted via Turnitin on the course Learn page by the following dates:
Lab reports - 12 noon Thursday of week 8
Field report - 12noon Thursday of week 10

Assessment and Feedback information can be found at
All details related to extensions procedures and late penalties can be found in the School of Geosciences General Information Handbook, which can be found on the Learn UG Student Information Hub.
Feedback The course includes laboratory practical sessions for which you will submit written reports. The first of these will be used for formative feedback to allow you to improve on subsequent reports. You will also receive on-going feedback from demonstrators during and after practical sessions.
We plan to hold 1-2 tutorials during exam revision season. During these sessions, we will review the type of questions likely to come up in the exam and discuss how best to tackle them.
In semester 2, the course team will be available to discuss examination scripts.

Examples of feedback can be found here:
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S1 (December)2:00
Resit Exam Diet (August)2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Consolidate knowledge of fundamental concepts in Environmental Geochemistry
  2. Integrate theoretical concepts with their practical applications
  3. Acquire skills in geochemical speciation modelling
  4. Be cognisant of skills in Technical report writing, critical appraisal of analytical data and accounting for uncertainties when drawing conclusions, appreciation of assumptions required for modelling.
Reading List
D. Langmuir: Aqueous Environmental Geochemistry
J.I. Drever: Geochemistry of Natural Waters
J.E. Andrews et al: An Introduction to Environmental Chemistry
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Field design and sampling
Laboratory analysis and statistical data analysis
Geochemical speciation modelling
KeywordsEnvironmental geochemistry,Earth's Surface,Aqueous environments,biogeochemistry,minewater chemis
Course organiserDr Raja Ganeshram
Tel: (0131 6)50 7364
Course secretaryMr Johan De Klerk
Tel: (0131 6)50 7010
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