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The University of Southampton

SOES3011 Biogeochemical Cycles in the Earth System

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Have the ability to critically read the primary literature, understand the techniques used, their assumptions and limitations.
  • Be able to assimilate and to synthesise and discuss Earth system processes and biogeochemical cycles.
  • Be able to understand how they may be regulated via negative feedbacks.
  • Be able to devise, construct and solve geochemical mass balances.
  • Be able to estimate residence times.
  • Be able to solve quantitative problems.
  • Numeracy and problem solving.
  • Literature access skills and critical reading.
  • Quantitative significance (big numbers matter more than small ones).


The module examines in greater depth the sources, sinks and cycles of chemical constituents in the Earth system, particularly the ocean, with particular reference to processes at the ocean boundaries, the role of particle fluxes and scavenging in removing and redistributing material, and the interactions of biological, geological, chemical and physical oceanographic phenomena. It covers in detail aspects of the geochemical cycles of some trace elements and major biogeochemical elements that exemplify the range of geochemical processes in marine environments. It examines major nutrient cycles as a whole, and their homeostatic regulation. There is a particular focus on the ocean carbon cycle and ocean acidification. Consideration of processes at the ocean boundaries focuses mainly on the coupling of the ocean and atmosphere as geochemical systems, and the fluxes of aerosols and gases, and on the chemistry of hydrothermal systems. The module is delivered through a mixture of lectures and practicals. Lecture material is built on through independent literature review of specific topics. Practical sessions include computer modelling of nutrient and carbon cycles in the ocean and manipulation of spreadsheets to determine impact of fluxes on the ocean. Online quizzes are used to allow consolidation of acquired skills. At the end of the module you should have an advanced understanding of global biogeochemical cycles, how they have been controlled in the past, how they may change in the future, and a quantitative appreciation of the impact of individual exchange fluxes on the global system. The skills acquired are essential for research and invaluable for careers in environmental science.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal Lectures (24 x 45 minutes): will provide the theory underlying global biogeochemical exchanges and the impact of individual exchange fluxes on the global system. Laboratory Classes: Practicals will exemplify the theory and develop your skills in problem solving; they help you to build an intuitive understanding of the quantitative aspects of geochemical problems. Reading Assignments: You should read at least two journal articles, plus sections from text books each week. This reading is important for understanding the lectures, and material from it can appear in the final exam. Tutorial support: Questions will be gladly answered before and after the lectures. If an extended explanation is required, arrange a consultation time in advance via email. You can also contact the demonstrator for additional help. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Independent Study100
Practical classes and workshops30
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 100%
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