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Unit information: Global Tectonics and Geodynamics in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

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


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:

  • understand the structure and properties of tectonic plates
  • explain the principles of isostasy and flexure and apply them to a variety of tectonic settings
  • use Matlab to produce simple numerical models and compare them to real data (e.g. seafloor bathymetry)
  • explain the relationships among various tectonic settings and the characteristics of the associated 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
  • evaluate the importance of various energy sources in driving Earth’s planetary evolution
  • apply physical principles and solve simple differential equations to estimate temperature, pressure and density profiles in terrestrial planets
  • describe geophysical and other evidence supporting the current understanding of Earth’s interior structure and processes including convection, geomagnetism, heat flow and phase changes
  • research a related topic and give a short oral presentation based on your research

Teaching details

24 lectures, 8 practicals and a 1-day mini-conference

Assessment Details

3 hour open book assessment (60%), and individual presentations (40%).

The objective of the individual presentation is to identify an open scientific question about a 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