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Biogeochemistry of System Earth


Admission requirements

BSc in Science.

Contact information

Coordinator: Prof. dr. J.R.Wijbrans


As a planet in the habitable zone around the sun, Earth consists of several reservoirs that are characterized by profoundly different chemical compositions. The course introduces System Earth from a chemical perspective: what are the different reservoirs, and how do they interact with each other. Trace elements and radiogenic isotopes can be used as tracers for processes in the ‘rock cycle’.
Environmental conditions at the Earth surface are determined by long term processes: formation of continents, the carbonate buffer of the ocean basins, and the composition of the atmosphere. Whereas it is clear that for much of the time span known from the rock record, i.e. ca 4 billion years, surface temperatures have allowed the presence of liquid water, there is some argument as to the actual temperature levels.
Similarly, during these 4 billion years, the chemical composition of the oceans and atmosphere has shown a long term trend of slowly increasing oxygen contents as the result of photosynthesis at first from cyanobacteria and in the last 0.5 billion years from multicellular plants.

Learning goals

General learning goals:
The Earth is a dynamic system, i.e. the Earth evolves over time. The Earth dynamic processes are understood in terms of Plate Tectonics theory. Time scales of development of continental crust, surface processes and the role of the solid Earth and variation in the Earth orbit over time govern climate variation. Students will be able to:

  • Identify key concepts and processes

  • Explain key concepts and processes.

Course objectives:
By the end of the course, the students should have an understanding of:

– the fundamental processes governing Earth as a chemical system; – the influence of biological and inorganic processes on the Earth’s environment; – how Earth climate today is influenced by both short term and long term geochemical trends.

Final qualifications:
Students will be able to reproduce and explain the principal modes of mass transfer in the solid Earth, and are familiar with general concepts of formation of the oceanic crust and the continental crust.
Students are familiar with the general concepts of fluid-rock interaction, and are able to use phase diagrams to predict the thermodynamic stability fields of weathering phases such as clay minerals.
Students are able to explain the concepts behind the Geological Time Scale, and the factors influencing climate in the recent to more distant past (including underlying processes operating at the scale of thousands of years and millions of years).


From 3 February till 4 April 2020 on Fridays

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Assignments and poster presentation


Blackboard will be used for communication

Reading list

C. Cockell (ed): An Introduction to the Earth-Life System, CUP, 2008, isbn: 9780521729536. S. E. Harnung, M.S. Johnson, Chemistry and the Environment, CUP, 2012, isbn: 9781107682573.


Via USIS and enroll in Blackboard

Exchange and Study Abroad students please see the Prospective students website for more information on how to apply.