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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

SOEE1620 The Rock Cycle

20 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Jason Harvey

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

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

This module replaces 2/3 of the content of SOEE1570, during a major restructuring of programme content.

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module gives students an overview of rocks as materials, and the linkage between the rocks that we find at the Earth’s surface and the processes by which different rock types form. Key to this are skills of rock and mineral identification, the use of hand lens and petrological microscopy, and the ability to accurately record and synthesise observations. Overall, geoscience is an observational science and so to be able to make accurate observations is a fundamental skill. We will also explore the interpretations of those observations and start to put the rocks we encounter into context. The concept of the rock cycle will also be an important part of the module, as it shows how minerals and materials crystallise, erode, are transported, laid down, lithified, metamorphosed, and then re-melted through the tectonic cycle. By the end of the module, students will have seen many of the different rock types on Earth and had an opportunity to examine them, classify them, and to record their observations. As part of the final synthesis of this module, students will be presented with suites of samples in order to identify and classify the rock types, and then to propose what those samples tell us about the geological history and geological setting of an area.The scheduling and delivery of practical activities forming part of this module may be subject to change as teaching delivery evolves in response to the ongoing Covid situation. Every effort will be made to meet the Module Learning outcomes.


To give students a broad introduction to and understanding of geological materials and their creation, destruction, and change via the rock cycle. The focus will be to introduce the main rock-forming minerals (silicates and non-silicates), their structures, chemistry, formation and identification. The main rock types will be introduced (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic) and explored in the context of their formation and alteration via the rock cycle and associated major Earth processes. The module addresses the science of geological materials at an introductory level and then applies this to mineral and rock-forming processes in the context of plate tectonics. The ability to describe and identify major rock-forming minerals and the major rock types will be a key practical focus of the module.

Learning outcomes
Students will
1. Know of basic plate tectonic environments on the Earth and their relation to the rock types developed
2. Be able to identify and describe a range of common rock-forming minerals using physical and optical properties, and demonstrate how these collectively make up the composition of a variety of rocks;
3. be able to identify and describe the three rock types (igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic) in hand specimen and thin section and understand their modes of formation;
4. Be able to use geological evidence to test hypotheses about the formation of rock units and therefore constrain their associated environments.

Skills outcomes
This module introduces the skills needed to examine, record and interpret geological data relating to rocks as materials. This includes basic rock identification and classification. It also starts to build the linkages between rocks and their link to tectonic processes and so the geological environment.


Understanding rocks and minerals - knowledge and skills
-Rocks around the world – what rocks are found where; how do we look at and describe rocks?
-Introductory Mineralogy – what are minerals, and how do we observe and describe them?
-Optical microscopy of rock thin sections – how to use a polarising microscope to identify minerals and observe rock textures
-Melting of the mantle, transport of magmas, and magma evolution
-Metamorphic principles and introduction to metamorphic rocks
-Sedimentary principles and introduction to erosion, transport and sedimentation.
-Detritral rocks and chemical sediments
The rock cycle and the associated rocks, including:
-Mid ocean ridge environments - crustal construction, ocean crust, basalts, black smokers
-Subduction zone areas - metamorphic concepts, the metamorphism of subduction zone materials, the metamorphism of basaltic igneous rocks.
-Volcanic arcs - the origins of igneous rocks in arc settings, their particular chemistry and mineralogy; volcanic versus plutonic materials
-Collisional belts – mountain building, uplift and erosion
-Post-orogenic activity – thermal relaxation, melting, granite emplacement, and post-orogenic collapse
-Continental clastic rocks
-Sediments at the land-sea interface
-Shallow to deep marine sediments
Improving the geological toolkit for understanding igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic rocks
Case studies- applying skills to suites of rocks from different environments

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours20.00
Private study hours120.00
Total Contact hours60.00
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.
The assessments for this module also include some work to be undertaken at home that will be a mixture of lecture and practical content as well as research and reading around a topic.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Students can obtain feedback directly in any practical class. In addition:
A formative hand specimen and thin section will be taken in for feedback ahead of the assessment, with examples of good practice
Some writing development will be developed as exercises alongside the module readings, to help inform students of best practice and marking expectations
Feedback on case study practicals will include a debrief on a typical case study, as an exemplar for the later assessment.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay3,000 words75.00
PracticalRock description (in class, one session to be specified in handbook)25.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The assessments will comprise: -A coursework essay on an aspect of the rock cycle -A hand specimen and thin section description will be assessed -A write up of the last of the case study practicals (together with submission of in class materials as appendix) will be submitted

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 27/07/2023


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