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Module DXX-3020:
Environmental Geochemistry

Module Facts

Run by School of Natural Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Graham Bird

Overall aims and purpose

Environmental Geochemistry is concerned with understanding the distribution of elements within the environment and how these can impact upon environmental and human health. The module focuses on 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 and quantify the presence of potentially toxic elements within different environments (riverine & riparian, atmospheric, soils). The module considers the implications for human health and environmental legislation along with approaches to environmental/geochemical monitoring. The modules aims to develop subject knowledge and transferable skills through lecture, field and laboratory-based teaching activities.

Course content

Major topics in the module may include:

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

Assessment Criteria


Grade A- and above Clear and accurate 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.


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.

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 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.

Learning outcomes

  1. Accurately explain elemental behaviour in the secondary environment.

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

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

  4. Explain the role of environmental geochemistry in influencing human health.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
REPORT Consultancy Report 60

Section 1: short answer and data-response questions . Section 2: one essay from a choice of two.


Teaching and Learning Strategy


10*2 hour lectures


14 hour and 15 hour field visits

Private study

Time spent working on coursework, guided study, independent study and revision for the examination.


1*2 hour workshop

Practical classes and workshops

2*3 hour practical classes


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.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting

Subject specific skills

  • Conduct fieldwork and/or laboratory work competently with awareness of appropriate risk assessment and ethical considerations
  • Consider issues from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.
  • Collect, analyse and interpret primary and/or secondary data using appropriate qualitative and/or quantitative techniques.
  • Apply appropriate techniques for presenting spatial and/or temporal trends in data.
  • Prepare effective maps, diagrams and visualizations.
  • Engagement with current subject developments and their application.
  • Demonstrate the independence and skills required for continuing professional development


Resource implications for students

No resource implications beyond the need for the usual clothing and footwear required for undertaking fieldwork.

Talis Reading list

Reading list

Courses including this module