Geology beyond the solar system: Easter 2018

Over the last two terms the Earth Science course has introduced you to the basic physical and chemical processes that occur on the Earth. In these three lectures we will now move beyond considering the Earth specifically, and apply this fundamental geological knowledge in the wider context of rocky planets.

A transformation in our understanding of planet formation and evolution has occurred since 19951, fuelled by two key observational campaigns: the Kepler mission, which has detected thousands of planets outside our solar system; and the ALMA observatory, which provides unparalleled images of planetary systems being born. One of the most profound results from this flurry of discovery is that the most abundant type of planet in the universe may be rocky and roughly Earth-sized. This realisation begins a new era of geological-uniformitarianism, where we must now apply the principles of geology that have been founded on the study of Earth in our exploration of these new worlds.

The course will reflect this philosophy; although we now leave the Earth, the aim is to use some of the same core geophysical, geochemical, and petrological concepts you have learnt in previous terms. So, whilst we will need to introduce some new nomenclature, this course is also a chance to reinforce your understanding of concepts you are already covered in lectures and practicals.

Location: Physiology lecture theatre
When: Easter term, 2018

Michaelmas: week 8 (the Christmas vacation edition)

Map Exercise: Complete map exercise 4 from the examples book.

Thin Section: Describe the rock and thin section Me3.

— Due for the first supervision of Lent Term, before lectures start —

Go over your notes and read around the subject a bit!
A structured way of doing this is by identifying the 1A tripos questions that relate to the Michaelmas term of the course (which you can access through Moodle), and use these essay titles to construct essay plans. Where you can’t think what you would say, head back to the notes and then onto relevant textbooks to find the information you need and to furnish your answers with more quantitative detail and real-world examples of the processes you are describing.

A great book for John’s part of the course is Fowler’s Solid Earth, which contains much more than you need to know, but has good clear explanations of key physical processes. The minerals part of the course is nicely expanded upon in Putnis’s Introduction to mineral sciences. For Marian’s part of the course there are a couple of books you might look at, Klein’s Earth Materials and Philpotts’s Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology are both good; each of which will also contain some examples of real-world occurrences of metamorphic terranes you can use in your essays and photomicrographs to help you relate geological processes to the textures you can see under the microscope. All of these should be in college libraries/UL so you shouldn’t need to buy them.

As a general read, Langmuir’s update of How to Build a Habitable Planet couldn’t be better, but this is a big book so expect reading it to take a while.

After all of this reading you should have plenty of questions for the first supervision next term, so come back with a list of things you want to discuss.

Michaelmas: Week 7

Essay: How can metamorphic rocks exposed at the surface of the Earth give us information about the pressure and temperature regimes in which they formed?

Map exercise: Complete map exercise 3 from the examples booklet.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 28th November —

Michaelmas: Week 6

Essay: Describe, using appropriate examples, how basaltic and granitic magmas are generated, the different tectonic environments in which these processes occur, and the type of rocks formed as a result.

Thin sections: Describe the thin sections ‘super 3’ and ‘super 7’.  Refer to the short guide I have written to help you.  These sections are in an envelope in my pigeon hole – please be very careful with them and put them back in the envelope and back in my pigeon hole after you have finished working with them.

Remember that after identifying phases you need to decide what type of rock you are looking at, and give a summary of its history.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 21st November —

Michaelmas: Week 5

Thin section: Describe rock specimens and thin sections I5 and I6. Refer to the short guide I have written to help you.

Question sheet 2 [no need to hand in]: Work through question sheet 2 from Rich’s ‘What is the Earth made of?’ course.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 14th November —

Core Petrology: Physical and chemical behaviour of magmas from source to eruption

This series of three lectures moves from considering the dynamics of magma storage in the crust, the release of magmatic fluids and their interaction with existing country rock, to the dynamics of volcanic eruptions.   The first and third lectures are followed by practicals combining a mixture of calculation and thin section work, the second lecture is followed by a seminar in the BPI fluid dynamics labs from Jerome Neufeld.

Part of: Core Petrology
Run by:
 Oliver Shorttle
Location: Harker 1 (for the first and third lectures, second lecture in the Marine Wolfson lecture theatre, Bullard labs)
When: Wednesday 15th February, Friday 17th February, Monday 20nd February.


Supervision sign up

Planetary Chemistry: Lent 2018

This Part III course on Planetary Chemistry and Evolution builds on fundamental topics in petrology and geochemistry and applies these to a range of current research topics in planetary chemistry and cosmochemistry.  Specific topics that will be covered are detailed are given in the course description (Moodle).  This option will be run as a seminar course and discussion group, where students will take it turns to prepare seminars based on a series of pre-defined topics and suggested reading materials.

Run by: Helen Williams, Oliver Shorttle
Location: Harker 2
When: First four weeks of Lent term on Tuesday (16.00-18.00) and Friday (14.00-16.00).


Supervision signup

Fill in the google form to indicate which supervisions you wish to attend (choose from between 0 to 2 supervisions).

Michaelmas: week 4

Essay: Explain why the concept of structure, rather than chemical formula, is more useful in the study of silicate minerals. Use olivine, pyroxene, amphibole and mica as examples in your discussion.

Question sheet 1 [no need to hand in]: I thoroughly recommend working through the question sheets provided with this part of the course.  The first one has you downloading the crystal maker software and using it to examine the structural elements of crystals.  This is an extremely valuable learning tool so do get familiar with it now.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 7th November —

Michaelmas: week 2

Calculation question: Attempt the isostasy question in the 2011 Tripos Part 1A practical exam (it is section 2, parts a-c).

Complete the answer on clean sheets of A4 rather than trying to fit it into the text boxes that come with the exam paper.  You can download past tripos papers from the NST Part 1A Earth Sciences page on Moodle, just follow the ‘past exam papers’ link from the navigation pane on the left (or follow this link).  Note that the structure of the 1A Earth Sciences exams was different before 2012, read your course guide for more details (or look at the most recent exam papers), but the questions set are often still relevant and useful for revision.

Map exercise: Complete map exercise 2 from the examples booklet.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 24th October —

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