nl en

Earth Systems Science



Toegankelijk voor zowel tweede- als derdejaars studenten van het honours college traject Bèta en Life Science. Keuze onderdeel.


System Earth is influenced by forces that can be understood from the main disciplines of the Sciences: chemistry, physics and biology. Where other courses in the Sustainability Master, such as e.g. GC4 ‘Sustainability – Earth’, humankind is identified as part of Earth processes, and vulnerable to drastic changes therein, the present course aims to explore the theme of Earth processes and in particular to address the chemistry and physics based actors in System Earth. Governments at all levels depend for their decision making processes on calculated models of Earth processes. In such models Earth processes are formulated and parameterized in terms of equations based chemical and physical processes.
In the course we will explore the principal components of System Earth: I – Plate Tectonic Theory, II – Rocks, Water and Weathering and III – Time Scales of System Earth, and by going through a selection of calculated examples a deeper understanding of the processes involved is obtained.
We will focus first on the dynamics of planet Earth, the principal building blocks of the solid Earth, and introduce plate tectonic theory as the underlying paradigm; time scales and rates of processes will be introduced. In the second part of the course we will first study carbonate dissolution and the role of atmospheric CO2 on the pH of natural waters. In the next step we will introduce the anthropogenic factor: the chemical reactions that contribute to the formation of acid rain, and we proceed to quantify the effect of acid rain on natural waters. Thermodynamics gives us the tools to quantify chemical reactions. Weathering reactions of basement rock in the acidic environments will form clay minerals. The process of clay mineral formation in turn can be linked to the formation of mineral resources such as bauxite.
In the final leg of the course we introduce isotope geochemistry and its role in quantifying Earth processes: radioactive decay as a tool to measure time and isotope fractionation as a tool to document temperature fluctuations, and thus climate change in the past.


The course will center on plenary sessions for each of the main themes where the course theory is introduced, an excursion to Naturalis in Leiden, and practical and theoretical assignments. Each of the three main parts will have a two week timeslot during which the targets for each theme will be introduced, and time will be divided over classroom teaching, and work on assignments. During week 7 the focus will be on finalizing the assignments, presentations and assessment.


Will be made available in the course.


The students in this course will be assessed in various ways. Emphasis will be placed on the development of debating, critical reading, scientific writing and presentation skills for which different forms of learning and teaching will be employed depending on the learning aim (see table below).
The students will be required to report on a weekly basis in blog-style on their experience with the course. At the end of each 2 week block, students report back with progress reports. The curriculum content of week 7 is based on these reports.


29 October – 20 December 2013 (weeks 44-51)
Tuesdays 17:00-18:50
Fridays 15:00-17:50

Wednesday octobre 30th, 13.30 – 17.00 pm: excursion to Naturalis

Locatie: University College Den Haag

Week 44 Principal components of system earth
Session 1 plenary introduction
Session 2 excursion to Naturalis
Week 45 Principal components of system earth
Session 1 Plate Tectonics experiment
Session 2 Reporting assignment Plate Tectonics experiment
Week 46 Rocks, water and weathering
Session 1 Theory of atmosphere chemistry focused on acid rain; acid rain pollution of lake systems
Session 2 Class assignment: rock-water atmosphere interaction, theory of carbonate dissolution
Week 47 Rocks, water and weathering
Session 1 Plenary session; phase diagrams, thermodynamics of chemical equilibrium
Session 2 Class assignment: rock-water atmosphere interaction, dissolution of silicates.
Week 48 Rates of earth processes
Session 1 Stable isotope fractionation: calculating global temperatures from ocean and icecap delta 18O and delta 2H values
Session2: Class assignment: temperature curves for global temperature
Week 49 Rate of earth processes
Session 1 Plenary session; radioactive decay: measuring exact ages for Earth Systems, the Age of the Earth, early life
Session2 Class assignment: the age of the oldest life on Earth
Week 50
Session 1 Classroom presentations
Session 2 final session class assignment
Week 51 Reading week: finalizing reports