The Biosphere in the Earth System

Module code: GY3354

Module co-ordinator: Dr Arnoud Boom

Module Outline

This module will provide students with an advanced-level understanding of contemporary biosphere processes, with an emphasis on the carbon cycle. We will consider the broad drivers of the biosphere and the feedbacks between the biosphere and the wider climate system. The module will consider in detail photosynthesis in relation to the global carbon cycle. Students will then learn about the different feedbacks in various biomes and current research into the relationships between Climate and the Carbon Cycle, and the importance for future climate change will be addressed. The module introduces stable isotope theory and focuses on applications to explore carbon exchange processes. In practical sessions, students will use state of the art instrumentation to measure and analyse a range of plant physiological data. The results will be presented in the form of a scientific paper.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module students will be able to:

  • Appreciate the importance of the biosphere in the Earth System
  • Relate certain types of biosphere-atmosphere interactions to particular biomes
  • Evaluate the role of different drivers of biospheric processes
  • Explain a range of feedbacks between the biosphere and other components of the Earth system
  • Analyse cause and effect in atmosphere-biosphere interactions
  • Evaluate the role of atmosphere-biosphere interactions in the climate system
  • Explain the role of carbon dioxide and photosynthesis in biosphere-atmosphere interactions
  • Apply fundamentals of stable isotope fractionation on key environmental processes.
  • Analyse ecosystem properties simulated by an ecosystem model and illustrate biosphere- atmosphere interactions with simulation data.
  • Interpret stable isotope signatures from atmospheric measurements (CO2) and terrestrial (plants, soils and foodwebs). 

Teaching and Learning Methods

Lectures; Seminars and Laboratory Practical Classes.


  • A written report (2,500 words) as an article for Biogeosciences. Students can choose which practical they would like to use for their report (Photosynthesis & Farquhar model or tree ring isotopes) (50%)
  • Written examination (50%)