The University of Southampton
Courses

SOES3006 The Evolving Earth

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

1. To provide an overview of the major events in Earth history that were critical in establishing the habitability of our planet 2. To introduce the controversies involved and present the latest research on these key topics 3. Provide examples of how cutting edge geological, geochemical and isotopic observations are being used by world leading researchers to better understand how the Earth system has evolved through time.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss in detail the major events in Earth history that were crucial in determining the habitability of our planet.
  • Use the latest research to evaluate the many (often conflicting) theories of Earth evolution
  • Appreciate the variety of methods used to provide information on the nature and patterns of Earth evolution.
  • The ability to be critical in examining different published theories
  • Express this ability by writing a reasoned essay on some key aspect of Earth history.
  • Working as part of a small group to give a concise presentation on a complex subject
  • The ability to construct a publication-ready well illustrated and tightly formatted document

Syllabus

Ten themes are developed over the course of this module through a series of 24 lectures accompanied by guided wider reading. The module starts with the beginning of the Solar System and an examination of the theories behind the origin of the Earth and Moon including the nature of planetary formation, accretion and differentiation. Next we focus on the conditions on the early Earth and discuss the evidence for an early continental crust and likely nature of plate tectonics early in Earth’s history, along with a look at the theories for the origin of the atmosphere and hydrosphere. This early Earth has some recognisable features but much is different to the Earth system today. The next crucial steps we will examine are the evolution of modern-style plate tectonics, the origin of life and the possibly associated rise of atmospheric oxygen. Along with changes in the solid Earth came dramatic changes in the oceans and in Earth’s climate. The next theme we will examine is how Earth’s climate evolved over geological time paying particular attention to Snowball earth events. With the rise of complex multicellular life, followed by rooting plants becoming established on land, we have nearly approached our modern Earth system. At this stage we turn our attention to the influence of apparently stochastic events in Earth history such as major asteroid impacts and super-massive volcanic eruptions. To put the rest of the course in context we finish with a look at comparative planetary evolution and try to answer whether the Earth is truly unique or is habitability a natural consequence of planetary formation?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal lectures: 24 x 45 minute lectures will provide the background and evidence underlying broad and important topics relating to the evolution of the planet. Background reading and independent research of the literature is essential. Wider reading materials will be supplied. Time will also be allocated for preparation of written work and oral presentation. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

TypeHours
Independent Study101
Lecture49
Total study time150

Assessment

Assessment Strategy

Review article (67%): An essay in the style of a Nature Review Article will be due towards the end of the module. The topic of the essay will deal with one or more of the major themes of the module and will be detailed on blackboard. The scientific quality and presentation of this paper will assess learning outcomes 1 to 3. Wider reading is essential. Presentation (33 %): As a group you will put together a 10 minute presentation on one of the major themes of the module. The quality, content and clarity of the presentation will be assessed by your fellow students as well as the module co-ordinator. There will be no final examination.

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Presentation  (10 minutes) 33%
Review paper 67%
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