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2020/21 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

SOEE1052 Our Habitable Planet

20 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Dave Ferguson

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2020/21

Pre-requisite qualifications

Sufficient qualifications to be admitted to any of the programmes to which this module is core content are assumed sufficient.

Module replaces

SOEE1042 Our Habitable Planet

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

How and when did our planet form? What is the link between nuclear reactions inside stars and the chemical composition of the Earth? How do we know what our planet’s interior is made of? Why is plate tectonics essential for planetary habitability? And how has the development of our human civilization been influenced by the Earth’s geological past? By exploring questions like theses this course will cover fundamental topics on the formation and evolution of planet Earth, providing students with a broad understanding of how the Earth formed and how it has maintained a habitable environment over billions of years of geological time. By examining the evidence behind important geological theories, such as plate tectonics and the history of atmospheric oxygen, students will develop an appreciation of how scientists have built-up our current understanding of the geological evolution of the Earth and why it has become home to the diversity of life we see today. Once we understand the geological conditions that make the Earth habitable, we can speculate about the possibility of complex life existing on other planets beyond our solar system. By covering a wide-range of important geological topics and processes, this course will give students a firm foundation from which to embark upon more specialized modules during the rest of their degree. This module also introduces and reinforces scientific skills including scientific methodology, experimental design, and data processing and revisits some of the foundational mathematical, physical and chemical knowledge necessary for modern professional geoscientists.


To gain a general understanding of the Earth’s composition, structure, and geological evolution, and an appreciation of how the interactions between dynamic processes, such as plate tectonics and climatic variability, help maintain a habitable surface environment.

To understand how humans interact with the Earth and what role the geological past has played in our access to energy and resources.

To understand the scientific evidence behind some important geological processes and to gain experience in conducting experiments and analysing data.

To acquire the necessary knowledge in foundational chemistry, maths and physics to complete other modules in the Geology degree programmes and prepare for professional work.

Learning outcomes
1. An ability to accurately describe the important processes involved in the formation and chemical-physical evolution of the Earth. 2. Demonstrate a clear understanding of the processes that maintain the Earth as a habitable planet, such as those governing long-term climate stability and the geochemistry of surface environments. 3. Be able to collect data and, through the application of simple concepts in maths, physics and chemistry, analyse it it to understand important geological processes. This includes using Excel to plot data and perform basic analysis. 4. The ability to consider the Earth as a system and to understand how processes in the solid Earth interact with those in the atmosphere/oceans (and vice versa). 5. The ability to describe and explain the key differences between the Earth with other planets in the solar system.

Skills outcomes
This module provides a background view at big picture geology: The formation and evolution of the Earth, what makes it habitable for life, how it functions as a planet and students are taught the fundamental aspects of chemistry, maths and physics required to study the Earth.


This module will cover various topics that chart the history of the Earth, from the formation of the elements that make our planet to the processes that control the climate over geological time. It will also examine how humans interact with the Earth and explore methods for detecting habitable planets in other solar systems. Topics covered:

Origin of elements and planets

- Nucleosynthesis, structure of the atom and radioactivity, chemical bonding and the periodic table volatility and geochemical affinities, solar nebula hypothesis and planetary accretion (terrestrial and gaseous), planetary differentiation and geophysical evidence for a layered earth

Chemical and physical evolution of Earth’s surface environment

- Oxidation of Earth’s surface, geological history of surface water, geochronology, plate tectonics and geochemical cycles at plate boundaries, the role of tectonics in maintaining climate stability and controlling seawater chemistry


- Evidence for, and mechanisms of, long-term climate stability, evidence for, and the causes of, glacial cycles, short versus long-term climate perturbations

Life on Earth

- Basic chemistry of life and redox reactions involving carbon, evidence for early life, broad trajectory of evolution, importance of extinction and evolution in the development of life, rise of human civilization and the Anthropocene.

Planetary context

- Context of the Earth within the solar system, key features that give rise to planetary habitability, astronomical methods for detecting and characterising exoplanets, examination of current catalogue of exoplanets and likelihood of habitability and therefore extra-terrestrial life.

Scientific methods, knowledge and techniques

- A strand of the module will each week examine “the science behind” the bigger picture conclusions, showing how chemical, physical and mathematical concepts underpin our knowledge of and study of the Earth

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours18.00
Private study hours120.00
Total Contact hours62.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Online learning would include the accessing of recorded lecture material or pre-prepared podcasts uploaded into the VLE.
In addition, students are expected to undertake reading of course texts as noted in the individual lecture materials to supplement their notes.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Summary MCQs will be provided for each topic to help students test their understanding/knowledge. These will have generic feedback on each answer and can be re-done during the semester.

Students will get face to face feedback in practical classes and will talk through answers to exercises with staff and can meet staff to discuss things using their office hours / open door policy.

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
PracticalOne assessed practical completed in groups. This involves designing and conducting an experiment to solve a simple problem but with limited equipment. Groups will have time before the exercise to plan their approach and time afterwards to write up/analyse their results.20.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)20.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc) 1 hr 30 mins50.00
Practical spot test exam (1)1 hr 30 mins30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)80.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 08/09/2020 17:33:47


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