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Module DXX-3001:
Environmental Geochemistry

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

10 Credits or 5 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Graham Bird

Overall aims and purpose

This module focuses primarily upon inorganic geochemistry (notably trace metals) within the secondary environment. The module is concerned with understanding the natural and anthropogenic factors that influence the abundance of toxic and non-toxic elements within the environment. It considers how we can establish 'normal' elemental abundance and how we can establish the presence of potentially toxic elements. The module looks at contamination issues within different environments (riverine & riparian, atmospheric, soils) and the implications for human health and environmental legislation and are considered along with approaches to environmental/geochemical monitoring and implications for environmental management and remediation.

Course content

  1. Context and major concepts: key terminology, introduction to the primary environment and natural elemental abundance, importance of mineralization.
  2. Introduction to the secondary environment. Geochemical behaviour in the secondary environment, cations and valency, processes of sorption, importance of pH and Eh.
  3. Natural release of metals to the environment: processes of physical, biological and chemical weathering, volcanic activity, determining `background' metal concentrations.
  4. Mapping of environmental geochemistry and the use of geochemical maps.
  5. Human activities as sources of metals to the environment: mining, smelting, petrol combustion, waste incineration, use of sewage sludge.
  6. Geochemistry and human health: toxicity and deficiency.
  7. The importance of the fluvial environment in pollutant dispersal and storage.
  8. Remediation techniques.

Assessment Criteria


Grade D- to D+ Adequate knowledge of the key concepts in inorganic geochemistry. Presentation of appropriate examples to illustrate geochemical processes. Structured, accurate and relevant description of the impacts of trace metal contamination on environmental and human health. Limited quantification, but with some errors and no critical evaluation.

C- to C+

Grade C- to C+ Adequate understanding and knowledge of the key concepts in inorganic geochemistry but with no or very limited evidence of reading and knowledge of recent developments in the subject. Multidisciplinary issues are not emphasised, with a limited and unbalanced description of natural and anthropogenically-influenced geochemical processes. Mostly accurate quantification but limited critical evaluation. Adequate standard of presentation.


Grade B- to B+ Clear understanding and thorough knowledge of the key concepts in inorganic geochemistry with evidence of reading and knowledge of recent developments in the subject. Multidisciplinary issues emphasised, and thoroughly described with a balanced review of natural and anthropogenically-influenced geochemical processes. Thorough quantification and critical evaluation of case studies. High standard of presentation.


Grade A- and above Clear understanding, wide and thorough knowledge of the key concepts in inorganic geochemistry. Evidence of substantial reading, and appreciation of recent and potential future research developments. Multidisciplinary issues emphasised, and thoroughly described with a balanced review of natural and anthropogenically-influenced geochemical processes. Detailed quantification and explanation of derivations. Critical evaluation with well reasoned opinion. Elegant and flowing presentation, with flair for subject.

Learning outcomes

  1. Analyse geochemical data using appropriate statistical techniques and draw appropriate conclusions.

  2. Demonstrate an accurate understanding of elemental behaviour in the secondary environment.

  3. Evaluate and exemplify the role of human activity and natural processes in releasing elements into the environment.

  4. Assess the role of geochemistry in human health.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
COURSEWORK Consultancy-style report 60
EXAM Exam 40

Teaching and Learning Strategy


1 x 1 hour drop-in session

Private study

Private and guided self-study including completing assessment and revision.


10*2 hour lectures


1 x 4 and 1 x 5 hour field visits


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Recognize and apply appropriate theories and concepts from a range of disciplines.
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Apply subject knowledge to the understanding and addressing of problems.
  • Awareness of the concepts of spatial and temporal scale in understanding processes and relationships.
  • Appreciation of the reciprocal nature of human-environmental relationships.
  • Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
  • Preparation of effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.


Resource implications for students

Students will require standard fieldwork clothing.

Talis Reading list

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: