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2016/17 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

GEOG3875 Biogeochemical Cycles: Process to Policy

20 creditsClass Size: 40

Module manager: Dr Clare Woulds

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2016/17

Pre-requisite qualifications

GEOG2085 or GEOG2090


GEOG2085Ecosystems: process, pattern, and change
GEOG2090Climate Systems

This module is mutually exclusive with

SOEE3110Earth System Science: BGC Cyc

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Global biogeochemical cycles describe the movement of biologically important elements through the Earth System (the combination of atmosphere, oceans, rocks and biota). The processes which govern such cycles are fundamental to all life, and result in a complex series of interactions and feedbacks. This module takes an Earth System Science approach to the study of the global cycling of biologically important elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur, iron and oxygen. You will learn about the processes governing the movement of these elements, and how to represent them using a simple numerical model. You will look in depth at environmental issues associated with biogeochemical cycles, and how these may/have been addressed through policy. You will then look back in time at how the evolution of life was interwoven with the evolution of our atmosphere and oceans.


To teach a knowledge of the global cycles of the important bioelements, and how these have changed over time and with the evolution of life.
To foster an understanding of feedbacks within the Earth System, and of how cycles are closely interconnected.
To foster an understanding of human impacts on the Earth System by perturbing these cycles, and their future implications, for example for food security and energy supply.
To develop the ability to debate and discuss possible future courses of action.
To develop systems thinking.
To develop an understanding of numerical modelling of biogeochemical cycles.
To develop critical reading and information synthesis skills.
To develop written and verbal communication and teamwork skills.

Learning outcomes
Students will gain a knowledge and understanding of:
The concepts used to describe global cycles.
The mechanisms and processes involved in the global cycles of a range of important bioelements, including C, N, P, S, Fe and O.
The ways in which humans have impacted biogeochemical cycles, and the future implications of this.
An understanding of the numerical modelling of biogeochemical cycles, and the ability to manipulate a simple model to explore future scenarios.
An understanding of how the different bioelement cycles are linked, and together play a major role in determining the state of earth surface, atmosphere and oceans and and how they feed back on climate.

Skills outcomes
This module will develop skills in critical reading, and synthesising information from multiple sources. Group discussions, debates and presentations will develop communication, presentation and teamwork skills, and the ability to construct a persuasive argument. Practical activities will develop numerical modelling, and data handling and interpretation skills.


The module will be taught in three blocks as follows.
Block 1: Global cycles and modelling
Block 2: Process to Policy and Biogeochemical Issues
Block 3: Co-evolution of the atmosphere, oceans and life

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours158.00
Total Contact hours42.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Private study will include reading of set material after each lecture, and in preparation for class discussions. Additional reading and writing will be required for the two coursework assessments, which will arise out of practical and seminar sessions. Finally, private study will include exam revision.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Assessments will be spaced out through the year, with assignments set in both semesters. These will provide some scope for progress monitoring and feedback. In addition, tasks on which formative feedback will be given will be set in both semesters.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2000 words50.00
Report1500 words20.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)70.00

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 mins30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)30.00

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: 15/11/2016


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