We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Faculty Handbook 2022-2023

Module Description

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run each academic year.

Department: Geography


Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap Location Durham


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module aims to provide students with an overview of the global carbon cycle, and consider the key pathways and processes that act to exchange carbon with the atmosphere and their links to climatic change. It will also introduce the biogeochemical cycles of major nutrients for life (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorous) and other elements (e.g. metals).
  • The module will introduce students to the carbon cycle across a range of timescales, from millions of years, to the ongoing anthropogenic perturbation and future change.
  • The module will also introduce how geochemical signals can be used to interpret the impact of physical, biological and human processes operating in the environment, while providing a foundation in inorganic and organic geochemistry for Geographers.


  • An overview of the global carbon cycle, considering the major pathways and processes that operate, across a range of timescales and spatial scales
  • Introduction to geochemistry and the use of elements as tracers to better understand environmental processes
  • Introduction to biogeochemical cycles of other major elements in the Earth System (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus, metals) and their link to life
  • Inorganic geochemistry: Exploring how elements cycle through the atmosphere, lithosphere (e.g. soils) and hydrosphere (e.g. rivers, lakes and ocean)
  • Organic geochemistry: The building blocks of life; organic matter production and degradation; links to the global carbon cycle including a consideration of reservoirs, fluxes and residence times
  • Isotope geochemistry: How isotopes can be used as tracers of environmental processes
  • Human impacts: How natural elemental cycles can be perturbed (e.g. promoting primary productivity, causing eutrophication, contaminating land and water) and how geochemical tracers can improve understanding and management options

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • On successful completion of the module students are expected to be able to:
  • Describe geochemical data in the context of environmental processes
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of what controls the concentration and cycles of elements in a range of physical environments
  • Identify key processes in the carbon cycle
  • Demonstrate awareness of how biogeochemical cycles operating in a single catchment can combine to impact at the global-scale
  • Assess the relative impact of human activities on biogeochemical cycles using geochemical tracers
  • Assess contrasting concepts and theories to explain spatial and temporal trends in elemental composition in different environments
Subject-specific Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students are expected to be able to:
  • Examine and describe patterns and trends in geochemical data
  • Understand appropriate sample preparation procedures for analytical geochemistry
  • Understand a range of analytical methods in environmental geochemistry
  • Understand precision and accuracy of geochemical measurements
  • Assess how geochemical data can be used as ‘proxies’ for modern and past environmental conditions and processes
  • Understand appropriate field sampling and analytical techniques
Key Skills:
  • On successful completion of the module students are expected to be able to:
  • Examine and describe patterns and trends in geochemical data
  • Critically interpret and effectively present scientific data
  • Describe geochemical data in the context of environmental processes
  • Work individually and as a group to generate and interpret data used for the individual summative report

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • The module uses a range of teaching, learning and assessment techniques
  • Lectures will provide the breadth of coverage and subject overview required by the aims and learning outcomes. These will be supplemented where appropriate by recommended additional reading which students will use to extend the information in the lectures. Students will also draw on learning experiences from the data practicals, seminars, laboratory sessions and the fieldwork.
  • Data practicals will be undertaken individually or in groups and will provide ‘hands-on’ experience with real data, real world environmental issues, and the methods used to interpret and present geochemical data. These will relate to concepts introduced in the lectures and provide a forum in which to investigate and question key concepts/issues in more detail. Detailed formative feedback will be provided in verbal form during the sessions and in the following lecture, and in written form by way of a 'model answer'.
  • The fieldwork and laboratory practicals will provide training in key methods in environmental geochemistry, including sample collection, preparation, and geochemical analysis (e.g., trace metals in river water). They will also provide an understanding of technical aspects of geochemical analyses (accuracy, precision). The data collected will form the content of the summative (coursework) assessment.
  • Seminars will allow students to work in groups to produce a coherent, concise verbal presentation of real geochemical data from the published literature, providing additional formative feedback. They will provide training in how to best summarise and present project results to an audience, and how to answer questions relating to the project. They will assess the key skills outlined above.
  • The unseen examination will assess the key skills described above, and provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental geochemistry, and their ability to critically evaluate the concepts introduced in the course.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 14 Weekly 2 hours 28
Lectures (including pre-field Health & Safety) 1 Once 1.5 hours 1.5
Practicals 8 Varies 1.5 hours 12
Laboratory Practicals 3 Varies 3 hours 9
Fieldwork 2 Term 1 1 hour 2
Seminars 2 Varies 2 hours 8
Preparation and Reading 139.5
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Individual report on laboratory practical Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Individual report on laboratory practical Max 6 pages A4 100%
Component: Examination Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Online 24 hour unseen examination 2 hours (recommended) 100%

Formative Assessment:

Verbal and written feedback on the Data Practical sessions. Verbal and written feedback will also be provided on seminar presentations. Ahead of the summative assessment, students will be required to produce a draft figure using data generated in the laboratory. Students will receive feedback during a lecture discussion session.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University

If you have a query about a specific module or degree programme, please contact the appropriate department.

If you have a question about Durham's modular degree programmes, please visit our FAQ webpage. If you have a question about modular programmes that is not covered by the FAQ, or a query about the on-line Faculty Handbook, please contact us using the Comments and Questions form below.