Evolution of the Earth System

Module code: GY1431

This module provides an introduction to physical geography, and to do this you'll deliberately be taking a 'big picture' perspective on planet Earth. 

You'll be investigating the idea that the Earth can be conceptualised as a functioning system (known as 'Earth System Science') that is made up of component parts, such as the biosphere (life), the geosphere (rocks) and the hydrosphere (the water and ice). These interact with one another by exchanging matter and energy via the major biogeochemical cycles (the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle etc) ultimately affecting the 'condition' of the system, which we perceive as the prevailing planetary climatic conditions. 

Using this perspective the module seeks to provide you with an overview of the key controls on planetary habitability, global climate change across a range of timescales, the functioning of key processes such as the carbon cycle, and more fundamentally, a sense of what makes planet Earth a unique and fascinating subject for study. This provides a foundation for much of the physical geography material that follows in years 2 and 3.

Topics covered 

  • The origin, composition and structure of Earth
  • Plate tectonics – functioning and significance
  • The carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles
  • Controls on planetary habitability – how has the Earth sustained life throughout most of its existence?
  • The history and character of life on Earth
  • The controls upon, and evolution of, global climate from deep time to the present
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