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Unit information: Global Tectonics and Geodynamics in 2015/16

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Unit name Global Tectonics and Geodynamics
Unit code EASC30053
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Juliet Biggs
Open unit status Not open

Students on the MSc Volcanology programme will be required to show equivalent competency (e.g. a BSc in Geology).



School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


The Earth is a dynamic system that is driven by heat escaping from the planet. The objective of this unit is to learn how the process works and its relationship to the Earth's physical and chemical structure.

The course will address the initial development of the Earth and its evolution to the present mode of heat transport: convection in the mantle and core. This convection drives phenomena such as the geomagnetic field and plate tectonics. The structure and motion of the plates will be analysed and put into a regional context through exploration of various key tectonic settings.

The unit will consider how tectonic setting influences the constitution of metamorphic and igneous rocks, and this topic will be explored through the concepts of chemical equilibrium, the phase rule, and crystallization from liquids. Through this framework, students will be introduced to some of the fundamental discussion and debates in tectonic and geodynamic research today.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • enumerate the energy sources driving Earth evolution
  • calculate relative plate motions and reconstruct past positions of plates
  • understand earthquake focal mechanisms and interpret the local tectonic information that they convey
  • apply heat flow principles to calculate temperatures inside the Earth
  • apply the principles of isostasy to continental rifts and basins
  • describe the basic parameters governing convection
  • describe how the Earth's magnetic field arises and how its history is known
  • understand the interaction of metamorphism and deformation and explain the application of geochronology to metamorphic rocks
  • explain the relationships among various tectonic settings and the characteristics of the associated igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks
  • apply qualitative and quantitative approaches to explain the compositional variety of igneous rock suites
  • use geochemical observations to deduce information about mantle structure and dynamics

Teaching details

30 Lectures and 10 practicals

Assessment Details

The unit is assessed through a closed book, end-of-year examination (80%) and through individual presentations (20%).

Students will be given a list of topics for their presentation and asked to name their first and second choices. Topics will be geographical regions or geological features (e.g. the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the Core Mantle Boundary, New Zealand). The scope is to identify an open scientific question about that topic/region from the literature and present the background and motivation for future research in that area. Presentations will be expected to last approximately 5 minutes.

Reading and References

  • (TS) Turcotte & Schubert (1982 or 2002). Geodynamics. Cambridge Press.
  • (SW) Stein & Wysession (2003). An introduction to seismology, earthquakes and earth structure. Blackwell Publishing.
  • (PA) Philpotts, A. and Ague, J. (2009). Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, Cambridge.
  • (KV) Kearey, P., Klepis, K.A., and Vine, F.J., (2009), Global Tectonics, Wiley-Blackwell.
  • (F) Fowler, C.M.R., (2004), The Solid Earth, An Introduction to Global Geophysics. Cambridge University Press