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Semester 1

Environmental Geochemistry of the Earth's Surface (EASC08024)


Earth Science





Normal Year Taken


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Course Summary

The course focusses on geochemistry of natural water as imprinted by its interaction with local geology. It takes an integrated view of natural and biological (anthropogenic) interactions that shape the earth's surface. Significantly, the approach is based on integrating theoretical geochemistry with practical skills such as (i) fieldwork and sampling design, (ii) data processing and statistical analysis, (iii) geochemical modelling, (iv) environmental remediation. **Please note that due to the extraordinary constraints relating to Covid-19 rules, all fieldtrips in Semester 1 are limited to day trips. Thus, while the spirit of the course remains the same, the learning outcomes for the 2021/22 academic year have been modified to remove those related to fieldwork. **

Course Description

Environmental geochemistry is about the sources, distribution and interactions of chemical species in the earth system, covering rocks, minerals, soil, water and biology. The surface environment has dominant controls on these interactions because the exposure of minerals to water and biology has the effect speeding up many geological reactions. In this course, we focus on natural waters because the mobility and speciation of chemical elements in natural wasters is central to many of the feedbacks that connect geochemical, biological, and geological processes at Earth s surface. The course is delivered in the form of lectures, practicals and field trips, the latter designed to showcase the practical applications of your theoretical understanding. Topics/lectures include (1) Controls on the composition of natural waters and classification, role of colloids and their surface chemistry in controlling water composition, energy demand for geochemical reactions and reaction pathways, metabolic pathways exploited by micro-organisms and higher organisms and their impact on nutrient and organic matter (carbon cycling) in the environment, and material cycling in estuarine environments. One weekend field trip normally forms part of the course, one in Luce Bay to examine estuarine physical and chemical dynamics. Taken together, these approaches will equip you with vital skills in (i) field observations, (ii) geochemical analysis coupled with data analysis and modelling, leading to (iii) robust scientific interpretation and professional/scientific reporting. Course content1) Controls on the composition of natural waters and classification (2) Forms of natural dissolved substances in natural waters (3) Colloids/ mineral surface chemistry surface adsorption reactions (4) Geochemical reactions, reaction pathways and rate determining reactions (5) Sources of energy for natural reactions in the natural environments (6) Autotrophic Metabolism: Living off sunlight and inorganic substances (7) Heterotrophic metabolism: Living off organic compounds (8) Organic matter cycling in natural environments (9) Estuarine Environments (10) Estuarine Circulation (11) Estuarine Sedimentation (12) Estuarine Chemistry: Basics (13) Estuarine Chemistry: Metals (14) Estuarine Chemistry: Carbon (15) Estuarine Chemistry: Nitrogen (16) Human Impacts on Estuaries /revision

Assessment Information

Written Exam 50%, Coursework 50%, Practical Exam 0%

Additional Assessment Information

Written Exam: 50%Course Work: 50 % (based on 3 laboratory reports (30%) , field report (20%)).There will be an exam in December consisting of a mixture of short answer questions and essay questions. The course work will be based on written reports on each of the practicals carried out during laboratory sessions and field work.Assessment deadlinesLaboratory reports should be submitted via Turnitin on the course Learn page by the following dates: Lab reports 12 noon Thursday of week 7 Field report - 12noon Thursday of week 10All details related to extensions procedures and late penalties can be found in the School of Geosciences General Information Handbook, which can be found on the Learn UG Student Information Hub, or contact the Student Support Team (

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