Course Information

Studying in the Department

Our combination of lectures, practical classes, tutorials and field trips, provides an unrivalled education in the Earth Sciences.

Tutorials are the most distinctive feature about studying in Oxford: weekly classes of just 2 or 3 students. You will have work to complete before the tutorial – typically a practical exercise or a problem set – and in the tutorial you take the answers apart, or explore the context of the problems. Many tutorials are led by lecturers: leading experts in their field; others may be led by graduate students or post-doctoral researchers. Either way, the close contact this gives you with people who are actively engaged in research will be a stimulating and challenging experience.

The staff profile is young, and international: half of the faculty have either studied or taught overseas, and one third have taken up their posts in Oxford within the past three years. They include graduates in Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Biology, in addition to Earth Sciences/Geology. The course is continually evolving, reflecting our evolving understanding of the Earth – from the depths of the Earth and the Oceans, through the origins of life, the tectonics of continents, the chemistry of the atmosphere and the circulation of the oceans to the history of the solar system and the formation of the planets.

The first two years of the course provide all students with the same broad foundation across the subject. From the third year, after completing an independent field mapping project in a carefully researched location of their choice, students to start to specialise with a choice of courses. The independent essay paper allows students to follow a topic of particular interest to much greater depth. In the fourth year, directed seminar classes are led with student presentations based on the current work in the field. The main aspect of the fourth year is the research project: a piece of original work, spread over two terms. For many students, this is the highlight of the course – and many of these projects will eventually be written up and published as research papers.

The course modules are listed below, and will be supplemented with further information in due course. For more in-depth explanations, download the Undergraduate Handbook at the bottom of the page.

First Year

  • Planet Earth
  • Fundamentals of Geology I
    • Crystals and Minerals
    • Minerals and Rocks
  • Fundamentals of Geology II
    • Geological Maps
    • Invertebrate Palaeobiology
  • Physics, Chemistry and Biology
  • Mathematics

Second Year

  • Fundamentals of Geology
    • Sedimentary Petrology
    • Structural Geology (with geological maps as practicals)
    • Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology
    • Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
    • Geological Map
    • Geophysical Methods in Geology
  • Topics in Earth Sciences
    • Volcanoes and the Environment
    • Fundamentals of Geophysics
    • High Temperature Geochemistry and Earth Structure
    • Quantitative Reasoning in the Earth Sciences
    • Radiogenic Isotope Geochemistry
    • Stable Isotope Geochemistry
    • Decoding the Fossil Record
    • Remote Sensing and Active Tectonics

Third Year

  • Geoscience Applications
  • Climate System – Oceans & Atmosphere
  • Solid Earth – Earthquakes, Volcanoes
  • Geological Processes
  • Palaeobiology – Ecosystems & Evolution
  • Computational Earth

Fourth Year

  • Environmental, Rock & Palaeo-magnetism
  • Planetary Chemistry
  • Structure & Dynamics of the Earth’s Mantle
  • Records of Major Environmental Change in Earth History
  • Topics in Volcanology
  • Anatomy of a Mountain Belt
  • Palaeobiology
  • Topics in Oceanography

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Undergraduate Handbook 2017/18