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The University of Southampton

SOES1005 Introduction to Ocean Biogeochemistry

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Confident in applying the basic concepts of chemical oceanography to new areas.
  • Aware of how chemical, biological, physical and geological processes are linked in the ocean.
  • Able to specialise in this subject or apply the general skills within your chosen degree pathway.
  • Numeracy, statistics and computer literacy
  • Problem-solving skills


This course explores how chemical materials are cycled in the oceans. Dissolved chemicals are the building blocks for life, yet the supply of these chemicals is fixed and finite. This means that for life to continue, nature must recycle biologically important elements. We explore the physical, biological and geological processes that regulate the occurrence, distribution and cycling of material in the oceans. We also use information obtained from sediments to decipher how the composition of the oceans has changed in the past and apply this knowledge to make informed decisions on how to use our ocean resources and how the system will change in the future. And perhaps most importantly, we investigate the role of the oceans in regulating levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and consider different geoengineering techniques that can be used to mitigate the effects of global warming. This module provides an introduction to ocean biogeochemistry and chemical oceanography for all science undergraduates and is particularly relevant to oceanography and geology students. The module is delivered through lectures and practical classes. Our approach is to provide exciting examples of chemistry in real marine environments. After providing an overview of important features of biogeochemical cycles, the course considers the specific examples of the carbon cycle, macronutrient cycles, and iron in the ocean. Within each of these general topics important chemical concepts that provide a mechanistic understanding of the behaviour of elements in the ocean, such as redox, solubility, kinetics and equilibria, will be introduced. The practical sessions provide skills training and allow us to assess student learning and provide direct feedback on progress. You will work through structured worksheets with assistance from demonstrators and staff. We start by revising basic chemical concepts that are used at GCSE and A level and build up to applying these concepts to real examples in chemical oceanography. Practical sessions cover areas such as the kinetics of iron oxidation in seawater, controls on the distributions of nutrients and dissolved oxygen in the oceans and an introduction to simple box models. Specific help will be given to students with only a very basic background in chemistry in the practical sessions. This course is taken by all Oceanography students and Geology students wishing to focus on palaeoceanography, geochemistry or Earth system science.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal Lectures: will provide an overview of important features of biogeochemical cycles and consider specific examples including the carbon cycle, macronutrient cycles, and iron in the ocean. Practical classes: will involve the student in using the concepts introduced in lectures. Examples will be worked through with help from demonstrators. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Practical classes and workshops30
Independent Study96
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

James, R., Oceanography Course Team (2005). Marine Biogeochemical Cycles. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Practical assessment 100%
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