Stable Isotopes in the Environment

Module code: GY3434

This module will focus entirely on stable isotopes in the environment. Much of what we know about climate change is derived from stable isotopic evidence, some of this has been introduced to you in year 1 and 2 as very important evidence of glacial and interglacial climate change. 

However, what you haven’t learned at this stage is exactly how this works, and how to interpret this evidence. An understanding of stable isotope theory will allow you to engage with some of the more recent and exciting developments in earth sciences, but also with relevant examples from ecology and archaeology. 

This module will introduce you to new cutting edge research topics and will equip you with valuable transferable skills. You'll also do a small research project with some of the most cutting edge mass spectrometer technology, and write a professional scientific article based on your findings.


Topics covered:

  • Isotope facts, theory and equations
  • Isotopes in the hydrological cycle
  • How plants discriminate against 13C
  • Isotopes in the carbon cycle
  • Isotopes in ecology and archaeology
  • Isotopes as recorders of climate change
  • Hands on experience in the laboratory: introduction to working with mass spectrometers


  • 15 hours of lectures
  • 4 hours of seminars
  • 5 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 1 hour of demonstration
  • 125 hours of guided independent study


  • Report (50%)
  • Exam, 2 hours (50%)