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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Geosciences : Earth Science

Undergraduate Course: Earth Surface Processes (EASC10084)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Geosciences CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryThe Earth's near surface environment, also known as the Critical Zone is defined as the Earth's outer layer from vegetation canopy to the soil and groundwater that sustains human life. As such, it forms the interface through which biology has the largest impact on geology, with potential for irreversible anthropogenic disturbance. This course takes a holistic view of the natural geochemical processes in the critcial zone and how these processes are modified by human/biological activities in order to develop the science base that underpins development of policies for dealing with contamination of this critical interface.
The objectives of the course are to:
1) understand the basic processes which influence the physical and chemical properties of the Earth's critical zone terrestrial environment;
2) explore the way in which these processes have interacted during the recent geological past to determine the character of the shallow earth;
3) examine the way in which human behaviour has modified the Earth's critical zone and how geological;understanding can help in remediating past damage and planning for future sustainable use;
4) develop critical appraisal of these interactions as a basis for improving regulatory framework.
Assessment will be in the form of an essay chosen from a set of topics designed to cover:
(a) critical appraisal/debate of evidence/concepts from literature;
(b) synthesis of ideas; and/or
(c) evidence-based assessment of policy issues/developments.

Course description The course will cover the following topics.

1. Water-rock Interaction and Material Cycling in the Earth's Critical Zone
Controls on mineral weathering rates. Field and laboratory methods for quantifying weathering, field versus laboratory measurements, effects of temperature on mineral dissolution rates, organic-mineral and organic-metal interactions; mechanisms of mineral dissolution reactions. Discussion topic: What is the evidence for/against the leached layer hypothesis of mineral weathering?

2. Interpreting Rock Weathering at Catchment Scale
Factors controlling rock weathering in catchments, links to climate through glacial processes and mountain building; the Amazon Basin case study for interpreting catchment scale weathering rates,coupling between biology and Earth Materials in the Earth's Critical Zone, role of biology in mineral growth and alteration, mechanisms of biological weathering, role of bacteria in acidic mine drainage.

3.Soil function, contamination and remediation:
Distinguishing weathering from soil profiles, Soil quality and function, Soil baseline values/geochemistry, global geochemical surveys, Soil, water and groundwater pollution, Risk Assessment Framework applied to soil, soil remediation.

4. Links between population growth, waste generation and disturbance of the Earth's Critical Zone
(i) Trends in population growth, resource exploitation and waste production, environmental degradation and sustainable development?
(a) Population growth and pressures linked to resource use and increased pollution.
(b) Exemplify a historical and scientific approach through the following examples: Thomas Malthus Essay on the principles of population, Club of Rome/Limits to growth, Limits to Growth 30(40) year update.
(ii) Environmental Management
Soils as a non-renewable resource in environmental management and stewardship. Sustainable use and sustainable development. What is sustainable? Bruntland Commission (1987). Legislation relating to soil management Soil management processes. Land Use Strategy for Scotland. Environmental Impact Assessments - offering enhancement over mitigation.
(iii) Waste Policy Framework, EU Legislation on What is Waste.
Waste Framework Directive. EU Landfill directive, Zero Waste Scotland, Solutions to waste generation. Controlling waste and methods of dealing with waste. Reducing waste as a method to offset potential global shortages.
(iv) Discussion/Debate Topic
(a) Is there a link between population growth and critical zone degradation? What is the future for humanity and the planet?
(b) Has the EU Landfill Directive been a success? At what level is this success measured.

5. Scientific Basis of the Contaminated Land Act 1990
Contamination and risk assessment (Source-pathway-target concept), Legal framework, contaminant transport and prediction, geological and experimental determination of transport parameters. Discussion/debate topics to include:
(i) what is the scientific basis of the Contaminated Land Act?
(ii) Are Soil Guideline values relevant?

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Learning how to integrate information and data from various sources into a coherent framework that helps them design problem-based investigations.
  2. Visualising and applying this information to natural settings and at different scales in order to facilitate prediction.
  3. Gaining an appreciation of the link between theory and technology in order to develop a practical approach to problem solving.
  4. Appreciating the impact of human activities on the near-surface environment and learning how to develop strategies for sustainable use of the environment.
Reading List
Papers distributed to the class throughout the duration of the course.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Integration of science and policy issues.
KeywordsWeathering,Earth¿s critical zone processes,Regulatory framework,geosphere-biosphere interaction.
Course organiserProf Bryne Ngwenya
Tel: (0131 6)50 8524
Course secretaryMs Katerina Sykioti
Tel: (0131 6)51 5251
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