Undergraduate Course: Evolution of the Living Earth (EASC08023)
|School||School of Geosciences
||College||College of Science and Engineering
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 8 (Year 1 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||This course is intended as a foundation course for all Earth Science students with emphasis on processes that operate at the global scale. The interactions between geology, chemistry, physics and biology affecting the origin and evolotion of life, Earth surface processes, and the climate history of the planet are studied. These together form the characteristics of the environment in which we live.
This course should also be of general interest to Biology students by providing a thorough basis for understanding the geological aspects of global environmental change, and in particular, the evolution of life in this context. Chemists will benefit from an application of basic chemical principles to complex natural systems, while the course also provides an important background for those interested in temporal phenomena e.g. archaeologists.
The course will consist of four main components:
The first part (13 lectures by Dr Stephen Brusatte) will present the evolution of the Earth in general and of life in particular. The roles of the atmosphere and geosphere on changes in the biosphere are discussed, emphasising the driving mechanisms (internal and external forcing) for change. Significant events in earth history are considered, including the origin of life, geochemical evolution of the atmosphere, and mass extinctions. The use of isotopic and other geochemical proxies will be introduced and used to illustrate key events. After covering this module, students will be able to recall the main features of the evolution of the planet and life on earth.
The second section (5 lectures by Dr. Alex Thomas) introduces the concept of global climate change across a spectrum of time-scales from many millions of years to inter-annual variations. The emphasis is on identifying the main processes that control climate variability and change on these different time-scales, and on using examples from Earth history to illustrate how these processes may interact. This leads to the concept of the ¿climate system¿; a complex coupled system where components may interact to either enhance or reduce any initial change in climate. Natural processes including those related to tectonic activity, weathering of rocks, changes in solar output, changes in the Earth¿s orbit around the sun, and natural ¿auto-oscillations¿ in the climate system (such as El Niño Southern Oscillation) are considered, as well as Anthropogenic processes of climate change related to changing greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere. From this module students will be able to recall the main timescales on which climate change occurs, and will be able to account for these scales of change with reference to current understanding on the topic. They will be able to assess the degree to which recent climate change is exceptional compared to previous times, and will understand the significance and reliability of future predictions based on climate model results.
The second third part (6 lectures by Dr. Bryne Ngwenya) is a basic introduction to the foundations of chemistry that underpins our fundamental understanding of natural chemical reactions. The course assumes very little chemistry and starts from first principles (fundamental building blocks of matter) to chemical reactions and what drives them. The lectures will run in parallel with assessed laboratory practical sessions designed to consolidate the application of the chemical concepts to natural substances/processes. On completion of this module, students will acquire a solid grasp of chemical principles upon which to build their chemistry skills relevant to Earth Materials and Chemical Geology in later years.
The third section (5 lectures by Dr. Alex Thomas) introduces the concept of global climate change across a spectrum of time-scales from many millions of years to inter-annual variations. The emphasis is on identifying the main processes that control climate variability and change on these different time-scales, and on using examples from Earth history to illustrate how these processes may interact. This leads to the concept of the ¿climate system¿; a complex coupled system where components may interact to either enhance or reduce any initial change in climate. Natural processes including those related to tectonic activity, weathering of rocks, changes in solar output, changes in the Earth¿s orbit around the sun, and natural ¿auto-oscillations¿ in the climate system (such as El Niño Southern Oscillation) are considered, as well as Anthropogenic processes of climate change related to changing greenhouse gas and aerosol concentrations in the atmosphere. From this module students will be able to recall the main timescales on which climate change occurs, and will be able to account for these scales of change with reference to current understanding on the topic. They will be able to assess the degree to which recent climate change is exceptional compared to previous times, and will understand the significance and reliability of future predictions based on climate model results.
The final part (6 lectures by Dr. Alex Thomas) looks at earth processes from an integrated point of view through a systematic study of biogeochemical cycles. The major biogeochemical cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are discussed and compared and detailed interactive practical sessions are used to illustrate measurement, analysis and synthesis of biogeochemical data. Links between the physical climate system and biogeochemical cycles are introduced to show how human activity is impacting on the environment. On completion of this module, students will be able to use the terminology and appreciate the merits of the cyclical approach to biogeochemistry. They will be able to recall the principal components of each biogeochemical element and the processes operating within each reservoir. They will appreciate the differences between the biogeochemical elements and also the human impact on each cycle.
Part I Origin and Evolution of Life (Dr Stephen Brusatte, SB)
Lecture 1 Building a Habitable Earth SB
Basics of Earth formation and Earth structure, the age of the Earth, the origin of liquid water and the atmosphere, why Earth is an ideal setting for the evolution of life
Lecture 2 Origin of Life SB
What is life?, what materials are necessary for life?, how did life form?, prokaryotic vs. eukaryotic cells, direct and indirect evidence for the earliest life, the oldest fossils
Lecture 3 Origin of Complexity SB
The Proterozoic world, cyanobacteria and the oxygen revolution in Earth¿s atmosphere, origin of eukaryotes, the first multicellular life, Snowball Earth and its effects on evolution, the Ediacaran fauna
Lecture 4 The Cambrian Explosion SB
Life in the Phanerozoic, the origin of skeletons, the Cambrian Explosion: what it was and what caused it, the phylogeny of animals, the Burgess Shale, how Cambrian environments affected early animals
Lecture 5 The Evolution of Life SB
Origin of the major animal body plans, Darwin and the theory of evolution, how to read a cladogram
Lecture 6 Faunal Innovation SB
The results of the Cambrian explosion: first large predators, modern food webs, substrate revolution, trilobites and other important Cambrian groups, Sepkoski¿s diversity curve and evolutionary faunas, introduction to mass extinctions.
Lecture 7 Palaeozoic Ocean Evolution SB
What causes evolutionary faunas?, the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event and the Palaeozoic fauna, end-Ordovician mass extinction, amazing Silurian fossil sites in England and Scotland, conodonts and the origin of bony vertebrates, the origin of fishes and the evolution of jaws
Lecture 8 The Invasion of Land SB
The earliest forays onto land and the Rhynie Chert of Scotland, the first terrestrial ecosystems, the origin of tetrapods and the rise of vertebrate faunas on land, exciting new tetrapod research in Scotland
Lecture 9 The Permian and Triassic World on Land SB
The origin of reptiles and amphibians, synapsid-dominated faunas during the Permian, the formation of Pangea and its effects on terrestrial evolution, the end-Permian mass extinction, the Triassic recovery and rise of archosaurs, the earliest dinosaurs and their competitors, another mass extinction at the end of the Triassic
Lecture 10 Dinosaurs SB
The evolution of dinosaurs across their ~160-million-year evolutionary history, the major groups of dinosaurs and their salient features and behaviours, dinosaur evolution and palaeogeography, the origin of birds and invasion of the sky
Lecture 11 The Rise of Mammals SB
The end-Cretaceous extinction and the death of the dinosaurs, the earliest mammals and their explosive radiation after the end-Cretaceous extinction, ¿archaic¿ mammals of the early Paleogene, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the origins of the modern mammal groups, later Cenozoic cooling and the spread of grasslands, the origin of humans
Lecture 12 Mesozoic and Cenozoic Oceans SB
The end-Permian extinction and rise of the Modern fauna, the Mesozoic Marine Revolution, Mesozoic microfossils and their importance in biostratigraphy, Mesozoic marine reptiles, the diversification of sharks and teleost fishes, whales take to the water
Lecture 13 Impact of Life on the Planet SB
The Gaia hypothesis, an overview of how life has impacted Earth over the course of the last few billion years.
Part II Global Climatic and Environmental Change (Dr Alex Thomas, ALT)
Lecture 14 Timescales of climatic change ALT
The habitable Earth; ¿Faint young sun paradox¿; the Climate System; structure, composition and circulation of the atmosphere and of the ocean.
Lecture 15 Climate change over millions of years (Academic Precis)
Evidence for past climatic change; weathering of rocks as a possible thermostat for Global climate; the role of tectonic processes in driving climate change; past ¿greenhouse¿ and ¿icehouse¿ times in Earth history; the Cretaceous ¿greenhouse¿ World as an example.
Lecture 16 Glacial-interglacial cycles and millennial timescale climate ALT
Variability: Cooling from the Cretaceous into the modern ¿icehouse¿; glacial-interglacial cycles of the past 2 million years and the role of orbital forcing; millennial timescale variability during the last glacial-interglacial cycle; climate of the Holocene.
Lecture 17 Mechanisms of natural short-term variation in climate ALT
Natural short-term variations in climate due to stochastic processes, variations in solar irradiance, effects of volcanic eruptions, effects of large meteorite impacts and auto-oscillations such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation; Anthropogenic climate change and the role of greenhouse gases and aerosols.
Lecture 18 Climate Change: the Past 1000 years and the Next 100 years ALT
Sources of information on short term variations in climate; nature and drivers of climate changes over the past 1000 years and anticipated changes over the next 100 years.
Part III Environmental Geochemistry (Dr B T Ngwena, BTN)
Lecture 19 Atoms and atomic structure BTN
Definition of elements and compounds. The atom and its constituent parts; the nucleus, protons (p) and neutrons (n). Atomic number). Atomic weights expressed as atomic mass units. What is the mass of an atomic particle? Gram formula weight; Avogadro¿s number. Definition of element (same p), and isotope (same p, various n). Summary of elements listed by numbers of protons. Representation of elements by their symbol, with their atomic number and mass number
Lecture 20 Electronic structure of atoms and periodic table BTN
Electrons: their relative mass, how far away from the nucleus they are. Electron orbitals: K, L, M shells, orbital pairs, electronic configurations. Elements listed by electronic configuration, which dictates the key chemical properties we are often interested in: bonding, volatility, metal vs non-metal. Define and explain the key parts of the periodic table, via groups, and via split into metal/amphoteric/non-metal
Lecture 21 Chemical Reactions and reaction stoichiometries BTN
Bonding of atoms: ionic, covalent, metallic, Van der Waals. Ionic compounds and molecules. What is a chemical reaction? How do they occur. Reaction stoichiometries: How to write and balance a chemical reaction,
Lecture 22 Reactions in solution BTN
Ionic solutions. Dissolving things. Solute and solvent. Concept of dissociation into ionic species in solution, solubility product and what this means. Activity and Concentrations. Redox chemistry, Eh and pH concepts.
Lecture 23 Drivers of chemical reactions BTN
Energy considerations: idea of vibrational, translational and rotational contributions to how much energy it takes to heat up a substance by 1¿C (heat capacity), entropy (with entropy explained in simple terms). Energy considerations in making and breaking bonds - enthalpies.
Lecture 24 Composition of the Earth and the Geochemical Cycle: BTN
Distribution of the elements, importance of water and oxygen, chemical reactions in the oxygen cycle. The state-steady geochemical cycle.
Part IV Global Biogeochemical Cycles (Dr Alex Thomas, ALT)
Lecture 25 Introduction to Biogeochemistry ALT
Biogeochemical elements, Advantages and disadvantages of the cyclical approach, terminology and box models.
Lecture 26 Global Carbon Cycle 1 ALT
Forms and isotopes of carbon, major reservoirs, a) atmosphere, CO2-seasonal and anthropogenic changes, b) hydrosphere-carbon speciation, concept of alkalinity and buffering capacity of seawater, c) lithosphere, including fossil carbon burning.
Lecture 27 Global Carbon Cycle 2 ALT
Mechanisms for exchange and fluxes between terrestrial biosphere and atmosphere, diurnal variations in CO2: Flux from atmosphere to oceans. Prime mechanisms of carbon transport in oceans, primary and new production. Fallout fluxes.
Lecture 28 Global Nitrogen Cycle 1 ALT
Natural nitrogen compounds HNO3, NO2, N2O, NH3 amines etc. Biological transformations of nitrogen compounds; nitrogen fixation, ammonia, assimilation, nitrification, assimilatory nitrate fixation, ammonification and denitrification.
Lecture 29 Phosphorus Cycle ALT
Natural forms of phosphorus in the environment. Important reservoirs and sub-cycles: Weathering of phosphorus minerals and flux of phosphorus to the rivers and oceans. Form of phosphorus in the ocean. Deposition of phosphorus to ocean sediments. Diagenetic concentration of phosphorus into economic deposits. Links between the phosphorus cycle and the carbo-nitrogen cycle.
Lecture 30 Global Sulphur Cycle ALT
Sulphur inventories in the aquatic and terrestrial systems. Fluxes of S in and out of the ocean and the conservative behaviour of S. Links between the biogeochemical cycles of N, P , and S with relevance to the carbon cycle
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2017/18, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Lecture Hours 30,
Seminar/Tutorial Hours 30,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||The exam will comprise 4 sections (A, Origin and Evolution of Life; B, Global Climatic and Environmental Change; C Environmental Chemistry; and D Global Biogeochemical Cycles). Each section will have 2 questions (8 in total). Students must answer 6 questions. Students must answer at least 1 question from each section.
The course will be delivered through a series of lectures and laboratory practical classes. In the practical course, the students will use physical and geochemical measurements to examine various aspects of global environmental processes.
Assessment will be based on a mixture of continuous work elements and a degree exam in December. Continuous assessment will contribute 50% and the degree exam 50%. Continuous assessment will be based on the following work elements and allocations:
(i) 10% from précis of 6 academic papers. Students are required to read and summarise a set of four scientific papers. A reading list of at least 6 papers, selected from a range of palaeontological and palaeoclimatic topics, will be provided. Summaries should be less than 200 words, typed, in a written or bullet point format. They should concentrate on the main issues addressed by the paper and the main conclusions reached. Credit will be given for scientific clarity, where accuracy and precision are retained despite the short word length. Two of the five submitted summaries will be marked in a peer marking session
(ii) 20% from the Biogeochemistry and fluid flow practical exercises.
(iii) 20% from the History of Life practical exercises.
Students MUST pass both the Continuous Assessment and Examinations components of the course (with a pass mark of 40% each).
Appropriate clothing for practicals
Practicals in weeks 6-11 involve working with chemicals. For you own safety, and that of others, you must wear suitable clothing. Footwear must be closed toe (no sandals or flipflops). Clothing should cover exposed skin ¿ shorts, skirts and kilts are not suitable. Long hair should be tied back. Scarfs and long neck ties must not be worn in the laboratory. If you insist in dressing up for class then a bow tie is acceptable. You are also expected to bring a lab notebook to the environmental chemistry practicals.
Origin and Evolution of life practical work must be submitted by 4pm on the Friday following each practical.
The academic summary (precis) must be submitted by 4pm on Friday of week 6.
The lab reports, and lab notebooks, must be submitted, by 4pm on the day 7days after the last practical.
||Origin and Evolution of life practical work must be submitted by 4pm on the Friday following each practical.
The academic summary (precis) must be submitted by 4pm on Friday of week 6.
The lab reports, and lab notebooks, must be submitted, by 4pm on the day 7days after the last practical.
||Hours & Minutes
|Main Exam Diet S1 (December)||Evolution of the Living Earth||2:00|
|Resit Exam Diet (August)||Evolution of the Living Earth||2:00|
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Students will be able to understand and eveluate the processes that have led to the habitable planet that we inhabit.
- Students will be able to assess the degree to which recent climate change is exceptional compared to previous times, the drivers of climate change over a range of timescales, and will understand the significance and reliability of future predictions based on climate model results.
- Students will acquire a basic understanding of geochemistry and its application to the Earth system.
- Students will be able to extract and synthesise data from important publications in these fields.
|Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth, A.H.Knoll, Princeton University Press.|
Earth's Climate Past and Future. William F. Ruddiman Freeman and Co. New York
Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Butcher et al., Academic Press.
Biogeochemistry: An Analysis of Global Change, W.H. Schlesinger, Academic Press.
Invertebrate Palaeontology , Clarkson, E.N.K., Blackwell
Dinosaurs, Brusatte, S. Benton, M., Quercus
In addition to journal articles and web based content linked on Learn.
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
||Laboratory skills; Critical thinking;
|Additional Class Delivery Information
||3 lectures and 1 practical per week. There will also be a tutorial in wk 7 and computer workshops in wks 6-10.
|Course organiser||Dr Alex Thomas
Tel: (0131 6)50 8749
|Course secretary||Mrs Nicola Clark
Tel: (0131 6)50 4842