Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

BSc Geophysics and Geology

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution:


University of Edinburgh

Teaching institution:


University of Edinburgh

Programme accredited by:
Final award: BSc
Programme title:

BSc Geophysics and Geology

UCAS code: F690
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Environmental Studies
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA:


Simon Tett, Academic


Orr, Administration

Date of production/revision: 4 March 2020

External summary

Geophysics is the application of physics to the understanding of the Earth, from its centre to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, with a particular focus on its interior. Measurements and theories are used to understand the structure of the Earth and examine the processes that lead to a wide variety of processes, such as movement of the continental plates, production of the geomagnetic field, triggering of earthquakes and other natural phenomena. A variety of seismic, gravity, thermal, electrical and magnetic methods allow us to characterise the sub-surface, e.g., for exploration of natural mineral, hydrocarbon, geothermal and water resources, and also to map potential sites for carbon dioxide and nuclear waste storage.

The ???and Geology??? pathway includes more emphasis on geological skills, in particular fieldwork.

Edinburgh has

one of the largest university groupings of geophysicists in Europe, and it offers unrivalled courses, covering practical applications of physics and mathematics in the geosciences. Edinburgh graduates in geophysics are well-placed to enter challenging and rewarding careers in areas such as environmental consultancy, oil and mineral prospecting, hydrogeology, industrial management and administration. The numerical and analytical skills  developed while studying physics and mathematics as applied to the geosciences, including the ability to interpret complex systems, are prized by potential employers.

Educational aims of programme

The student should:

  • Acquire knowledge of the Earth and of the physical processes which govern it;

  • Learn to collect scientific information in the field;

  • Learn to perform critical analysis of scientific information;

  • Acquire the ability to postulate and test a scientific hypothesis;

  • Develop their mathematical and problem-solving skills;

  • Learn about the scientific use of computers and develop their general IT skills; and

  • Improve their presentation and communication skills.

Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

Graduates from the BSc in Geophysics and Geology will possess and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the:

  • Structure of the Earth and of the processes which shape it;

  • Types of rock which make up the Earth;

  • Various physical techniques used to probe the Earth's structure;

  • Processes by which hydrocarbons form, migrate and are trapped within rock;

  • Earth's magnetic field and understanding of the processes which form it; and

  • Causes of earthquakes and of how seismic waves propagate through the Earth.


Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

By engaging with and completing the BSc in Geophysics and Geology, graduates will be able to:

  • Tackle a variety of problems in Earth sciences by breaking down problems in unfamiliar situations into manageable tasks;

  • Explore and monitor the shallow Earth and upper crust (from centimetres to kilometres depth) using a range of geophysical exploration equipment and methods, for purposes of resource exploration and management;

  • Explore the deep Earth (from crust to core) using seismic waves from earthquakes, electromagnetic waves, and the Earth???s gravitational and magnetic fields;

  • Collect experimental data and analyse it in a quantitative and critical manner;

  • Run computational models and analyse their output in a quantitative and critical manner;
  • Conduct literature reviews and critically evaluate research literature;

  • Write complex computer programs in both compiled and interpreted languages in order to analyse scientific data; and

  • Plan and manage a research project.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

By engaging with and completing the BSc in Geophysics and Geology, graduates will be able to:

  • Work effectively both individually and as a member of a small group;

  • Work independently and with good skills of self-management; and

  • Display creativity, flexibility and adaptability.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

By engaging with and completing the BSc in Geophysics and Geology, graduates will be able to:

  • Write scientific reports in a clear and well-presented manner; and

  • Give a verbal presentation of scientific results in the style expected at conferences in physics and the Earth sciences.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

By engaging with and completing the BSc in Geophysics and Geology, graduates will be able to:

  • Collaborate efficiently and productively with others in the process of learning and presenting conclusions ??? this includes those with a range of backgrounds and knowledge, such as fellow-students, tutors and supervisors;

  • Organise their own learning, manage workload and work to a timetable. Participate effectively in group work and projects; and

  • Effectively plan, and possess the confidence to undertake and to present scholarly work that demonstrates an understanding of the aims, methods and theoretical considerations relevant to geophysics.

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

By engaging with and completing the BSc in Geophysics and Geology, graduates will be able to:

  • Apply mathematical and numerical techniques to the study of the Earth;

  • Make confident use of computers running both Windows and Linux, both for generic purposes such as report writing and for subject-specific purposes such as data-analysis and numerical modelling;

  • Write programs in a data-analysis language (e.g., Python) to create numerical models and analyse data;

  • Operate a variety of technical equipment for the measurement of geophysical quantities; and

  • Interpret geophysical data in a geological context.

Fieldwork skills

  • By engaging with and completing the BSc in Geophysics and Geology, graduates will be able to carry out geophysical data acquisition in a field-based environment, and to be able to interpret the results in terms of local geology.

Programme structure and features

Pre-honours, Junior Honours and Senior Honours years for the BSc in Geophysics and Geology are laid out at:


Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Teaching in years 1-4 is essentially as for BSc degree in Geophysics. Specific activities will vary with course options taken, but may include

In years 1 and 2

  • Lectures
  • Tutorials
  • Practical classes
  • Single-day fieldwork

In year 3

  • Lectures
  • Tutorials
  • Practical and computer programming classes
  • Geology Field course

In year 4

  • Lectures
  • Tutorials
  • Practical and computer programming classes
  • International Geophysics Field course
  • Extended research projects
  • Seminars and presentations

Assessment methods and strategies

In years 1 and 2

  • Written examinations
  • Assessed laboratory work
  • Other coursework

 In year 3

  • Written examinations
  • Assessed laboratory reports
  • Computer programming exercises
  • Other coursework

In year 4

  • Written examinations
  • Research project reports
  • Summary reports from fieldwork
  • Presentation skills

Career opportunities

Geophysics graduates often go on to careers as geophysicists, in the oil, mining or nuclear industries. They may also transfer their physical, mathematical, numerical and algorithmic skills to a huge range of non-Earth Science related positions, for example in engineering, finance, business, consultancy, and a large variety of governmental and civil service positions. Many graduates go on to study for higher degrees.

The ???and Geology??? pathway prepares students for more geological jobs, e.g. those involving mapping, fieldwork and rock identification skills.

Other items

It is possible to replace the 3rd year with equivalent courses at an approved overseas institute.