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Introduction to Part IB Earth Sciences A

The Part IB Earth Sciences A course concentrates on the surface environments of the Earth - the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere - together with their geological products. It encompasses the fields of oceanography, climate change, palaeobiology and sedimentology. This course also provides an introduction to geophysics and tectonics on scales from lithospheric plates down to hand specimens, emphasizing the processes that form and deform sedimentary basins. Some geochemistry is also taught within the other disciplines. Knowledge of Part IA Earth Sciences is assumed, although in exceptional cases it may be possible to read Part IB Earth Sciences without having read Earth Sciences at Part IA. This needs careful discussion with the course coordinator and your college Director of Studies.

Fieldwork consists of a trip to Southwest England around Easter, and if you intend to do third year Earth Sciences you will already have done the Cumbria Mapping Course before the start of your second year.

Full information for Part 1B Earth Sciences A


Evolution of the Hydrosphere

Sea ice ©Nancy Weiner, INSTAAR

This course introduces ideas from both physical and chemical oceanography. With ocean circulation a recurring theme, the lectures and practicals investigate the salinity of the oceans, biological and physical processes that cause chemical changes to their constituents, and how these impact upon both long and short term climate change. By the end of the course you should understand the Earth as a complex, evolving system of interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans, the biosphere and the geosphere. This course leads on to many options in oceanography and climate science in Part II and III.

Maps and Structures

Millook chevron folds © N.H.Woodcock Developing an in-depth understanding of geological maps is the focus of the first part of this course, before it covers description and interpretation of deformation structures - folds, faults and fractures - on scales from microscope slide specimens to mountain ranges. Essential for the Part II mapping project, the practical components of the course also provide an overview of structures in Southwest England, many of which are to be seen on the Easter field trip.

Tectonics and Seismology

Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea ©NASA This course outlines the geophysical tools used to investigate how the Earth is deforming, providing an introduction to geophysics Part II and III. Plate tectonics is discussed further, particularly in regard to earthquakes, which are the main focus of the second part of the course. Lectures and practicals on seismic reflection profiling also allow a look at deep crustal structure, particularly of continental rifts and margins. Practicals apply these concepts to real data: diagnosing, detecting, and working with seismological observations.


Dunes in the Namib Desert ©Dr T. Dickson

This course studies the entire range of present and past surface environments on the Earth, and the hallmarks they leave on the sedimentary rocks that are deposited in them. By the end of the course you should have a full understanding of surface processes that cause sedimentary deposition, and be able to reconstruct paleoenvironments by analysing the rock record, an essential tool for a geologist.

Evolutionary Palaeobiology, Micropalaeontology & Vertebrate Palaeontology

Allosaur skull ©Sedgwick Museum The first part of the lecture course exposes principles of evolutionary biology, using examples from palaeontology to illustrate particular concepts such as morphospace, and ideas from ecology. Micropalaeontology forms the second course component, and the full range of important planktonic and benthic microorganisms are studied; their ecology, evolutionary history and impact on global change is discussed. Vertebrate palaeontology comprises the last lecture course, focussing on the history of dinosaurs, birds, and early tetrapods, and leads on to the Part II and III courses in evolutionary biology and vertebrate palaeontology.

Sedimentary Basins

Oil fire residues over Kuwait ©NASA

This course provides an end-of-year focus by showing how the three main components of stratigraphic geology — tectonics, sedimentology and palaeontology — contribute to our understanding of the way in which the Earth’s lithosphere deforms to generate sedimentary basins. We discuss the formation, filling and death of sedimentary basins, and by using a variety of tools, the principal types of sedimentary basin are described and analyzed. Emphasis is on using simple calculations to extract information about vertical motions of the Earth’s surface. This course leads into Part II and III options in Geophysics and Basin Modelling, still the most commercially productive of the many applications of our geological expertise.