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Part II - Options

Michaelmas Term 2017

C1: Geophysics and Tectonics

Alex Copley, Nicky White, Nick Rawlinson, David Al-Attar, John Rudge

This course will describe the fundamentals of tectonics and geophysics, and provides the means to understand the behaviour and evolution of the solid Earth on scales of individual fault systems to the entire planet. We will describe:

  • observations and models of earthquakes and active faulting, using a range of seismological, field, and satellite-based techniques.
  • the structure and material properties of the tectonic plates, and the forces driving their motion and deformation.
  • the information that seismology can provide about the structure of the planet, using both near-surface seismic experiments and global observations of earthquake-induced waves.
  • convection in the Earth’s mantle, and its effects on the volcanism and topography at the surface.
  • the application of this material to other rocky planets.

The material in this course forms the basis of a 9-day field trip to central Greece in early December, to study the active tectonics and its controls on sedimentation and volcanism.

C2: Ancient Life and Environments

Nick Butterfield, Neil Davies, Sasha Turchyn

Understanding the evolutionary and geological record of life on Earth requires a multidisciplinary approach.  The ‘ALE’ course addresses this from three distinct but intimately inter-related directions – palaeobiology, biogeochemistry and sedimentology.  The course includes:

  • a critical survey of the early fossil record with a focus on major evolutionary transitions; e.g., origin(s) of life, photosynthesis, eukaryotes and animals
  • investigation of marine biogeochemical cycles and how their evolutionary history has shaped the Earth-ocean-atmosphere system through time.
  • analysis of processes in active sedimentary settings as analogues for ancient environments.

In addition to lectures, practicals and seminars, the course includes a long-weekend fieldtrip to Norfolk to study sedimentological and geochemical processes in active tidal environments, and a daytrip to Suffolk to examine Cenozoic tidal deposits.

NB. Wellington boots are essential for Norfolk fieldtrip, so you may want to bring some to Cambridge when you return for Michaelmas term.  The fieldtrip will run from Friday 20 October to Sunday 22 of October (two nights away).  The Suffolk excursion will depart from Cambridge the following day (Monday 23 October).

Lent Term 2018

C3: Petrology

Tim Holland, Marian Holness, Marie Edmonds, Ed Tipper, John Maclennan

This 24-lecture course is designed to introduce you to a range of fundamental ideas and concepts that will provide you with a sound basis for petrological Part III projects and courses. It includes 6 lectures on pelites, CO2-H2O fluids in siliceous dolomites, granulites, crustal melting, and redox changes, which will reinforce and expand your understanding of thermodynamic applications to metamorphic and igneous petrology. The next 3 lectures will develop your petrographic skills and teach you how to decode the record of rock history preserved in thin sections of both metamorphic and igneous rocks. Magma chambers are covered in 5 lectures, with a discussion of fluid dynamical processes occurring during solidification of basaltic and andesitic magma (including the effects of convection, liquid immiscibility, progressive fractionation, degassing, ore formation, and the triggering, dynamics and effects of explosive eruptions. A basic geochemical toolbox will be delivered over 5 lectures, building on the whole-Earth geochemistry you have already covered in 1B and demonstrating the range of geochemical techniques using a wide range of exciting topics such as core formation, mantle reservoirs of noble bases, non-traditional stable isotope geochemistry and U-series dating. The final 4 lectures will show how synthesizing fluid dynamics, geophysics and geochemistry can be used to answer some of the big questions of mantle convection and Earth history.

C4: Earth’s Climate System

Luke Skinner, David Hodell, Eric Wolff

Earth's climate can be seen as both the backdrop and the outcome of the evolution of life and biogeochemical cycling over geological time. Global temperature, and therefore climate, is set by the balance of incoming and outgoing radiation, which varies on a range of time scales and depends on solar input, planetary albedo and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.  This course builds on the knowledge introduced in 1A on Quaternary climate change as well as the knowledge introduced in 1B on chemical and physical oceanography to explore the evolution of Earth's climate over a range of timescales. We will explore key processes that are responsible for climate change, what methods are used to reconstruct past environmental change, and what the geological record can teach us about climate dynamics.  Emphasis will be placed on the role of the ocean circulation as a key parameter in the global carbon cycle, as well as the role of the cryosphere in past climate change. Finally, the course will also develop and make use of simple energy balance and biogeochemical models in order explore how the planet transformed from a greenhouse to icehouse over the past 65 million years, and how it might evolve in the long term future.

C5: Mineralogy

This course covers fundamental aspects of how mineral structures are determined, how they respond to changes in pressure and temperature, and how such changes determine some of the properties which are most important in a geological context. The course is divided into four sections:

Rock and mineral magnetism

Richard Harrison

This course covers the theory and applications of fine-particle magnetism in natural systems, including rocks, meteorites and biological systems. We explore the core physical concepts that control the behaviour of magnetic minerals, and how these can be used to explore the past magnetic field of the Earth and other planets.


Emilie Ringe

This course teaches the theory and applications of diffraction from crystalline materials. The course explains how the diffraction pattern of a mineral can be calculated, and explains how diffraction experiments are used to unlock the atomic scale structure of minerals, using examples from the world of X-ray, neutron and electron diffraction.

Lattice dynamics

Simon Redfern

The properties and behaviour of minerals are determined by both the crystal structure (where the atoms are) and by the lattice dynamics (how atoms move). This course teaches the core concepts of lattice dynamics and provides an introduction to computational mineral physics, demonstrating how computer simulations can be used to study minerals under conditions of pressure and temperature not currently accessible to experiment.

Phase transitions

Michael Carpenter

This course describes the different types of phase transitions that can occur in minerals, and the dramatic changes in properties that occur when crystal structures become unstable. The core thermodynamic framework used to describe phase transitions will be introduced, as well as the tools needed to describe anisotropy in minerals. These are applied to predict how phase transitions impact the seismic properties of minerals in the Earth.