Evolution of the Earth System

Module code: GY1431

In this module we focus on the character and functioning of the 'planetary machine' that is the Earth. In it we introduce the concept of 'Earth System Science' as a means to conceptualise the operation of our planet. We start, literally at the beginning, considering with the creation of the solar system and the Earth 4.6 billion years ago. We analyse why Earth is unique in the solar system in having harboured life for much of its existence, how planetary conditions (climate) have changed through time and how the Earth came to be structured as it is. In doing so we consider the functioning and importance of plate tectonics, the major global-scale biogeochemical cycles (carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous) and the evolution of life and climate across history.


  • 18 hours of lectures
  • 3 hours of tutorials
  • 9 hours of supervised time in workshop
  • 120 hours of guided independent study


  • Term test 1, 1 hour (15%)
  • Term test 2, 1 hour (15%)
  • Exam, 1½ hours (70%)