Earth and Ocean Systems

Module code: GL2101
Module co-ordinator: Professor Jan Zalasiewicz

The Earth is a complex planet, and its study has increasingly been divided into a variety of disciplines which focus attention on different aspects of Earth-related phenomena, for instance igneous petrology, palaeontology, and sedimentology. However, the Earth also functions as an integrated system, with interchange between the various ‘spheres’ that comprise it, such as the mantle, crust, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, and this interchange has kept this planet continuously habitable for more than 3 billion years.

This module will aim to provide an integrated approach to understanding our planet, focusing on the solid Earth and the oceans, and on the relations between them.

Topics covered

  • Planetary accretion and differentiation, including the supply of water for oceans
  • Producing continental crust and the start of plate tectonics
  • Mantle convection; stirring and mixing
  • Physical oceanography, and the evolution of the ocean basins
  • Changes to ocean chemistry through time, including sediment recycling into the oceans and element residence times
  • Ocean current systems and what drives them, past and present
  • The evolution of life in the oceans and its transition to land
  • Human impact on the Earth/ocean system
  • Fate of the Earth/ocean system in the far future
  • Planet/moon/ocean systems in the Solar System and beyond


  • 9 hours of lectures
  • 27 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 114 hours of guided independent study


  • Exam, 1½ hours (50%)
  • Report (50%)