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GEOS425/525 Whole Earth Geochemistry


Course Outcomes:

  1. Be able to describe the fundamental concepts of geochemistry, and how they constrain the origin, composition, and evolution of the Earth.
  2. Be able to apply principles of physics, chemistry, and mathematics to understand geochemical processes.
  3. Be able to apply geochemical knowledge and critical thinking skills to address a range of geological problems.
  4. Utilize computers and software to solve problems in the field of geochemistry.
  5. Be familiar with sources of scientific information and be able to utilize scientific literature in geochemistry.

This course is designed to be a quantitative examination of the field of geochemistry — the application of chemical principles to the study of Earth materials and processes, including the Earth’s mantle, crust, hydrosphere and atmosphere. To understand the scientific principles that govern geochemical systems, we will review the essentials of thermodynamics and kinetics, two-component mixing, isotope and trace element chemistry.  These principles will be applied to understanding topics including nucleosynthesis and the formation of the elements; the formation and chemical differentiation of the Earth; isotope systems as tracers and chronometers; chemical weathering and aqueous geochemistry of the continents and oceans.

Course Assessment:

  • problem sets & assignments            50%
  • class discussion and participation   10%
  • mid-term exam   20%
  • final exam   20%
  • final project (grads only)   (25%)

Problem Sets & Assignments:

  • All problem sets/assignments must be submitted through Canvas
  • All problem sets/assignments are due for full credit one week after handout.
  • There will be a new assignment each week, so please keep up!

Required Text: (available in the Bookstore)

McSween, H. Richardson, S., and Uhle, M., Geochemistry: Pathways and Processes, 2nd ed., Columbia University Press, 2003.

Supplementary Texts: (available at Albertson Library)

Faure, G., Principles and Applications of Inorganic Geochemistry, 2nd ed., Prentice Hall, 1997.

Allegre, C., From Stone to Star: A View of Modern Geology, Harvard University Press, 1992.

Wood, B.J. and Fraser, D.J., Elementary Thermodynamics for Geologists, Oxford University Press, 1977.

Course Schedule: Fall 2009

Week 1: Review: Atomic Theory, Periodic Properties of the Elements and Chemical Bonding (Chapter 1,2)

Week 2: Review: Whole Earth Composition, Structure and Geodynamics; Nucleosynthesis (Chapters 12 and 15; also Allegre, “From Stone to Star”)

Week 3: Laws of Thermodynamics, Entropy, and Enthalpy, and Free Energy (Chapter 3,9)

Week 4: Thermodynamics of Solutions: Chemical Potential (Chapter 4,9)

Week 5: Thermodynamics of Solutions: Equilibrium Constants and Geothermometry (Chapter 4,9)

Week 6: Trace Element Geochemistry (Chapter 12)

Week 7: Radiogenic Isotopes: Geochronology (Chapter 14)

Week 8: Mid-Term Exam 10/16

Week 9: Radiogenic Isotopes: Tracers (Chapter 14)

Week 10: Mixing Processes (Faure, Chapter 16)

Week 11: Kinetics and Diffusion (Chapter 5,11)

Week 12: Stable Isotopes: Equilibrium Fractionation (Chapter 13)

Week 13: Stable Isotopes: Kinetic Fractionation (Chapter 13)

Week 14:  Thanksgiving Holiday – No Classes

Week 15: Aqueous Geochemistry: Acid-Base Reactions and pH; Oxidation-Reduction Reactions and Eh (Chapters 5,7,8)

Week 16: Reactions at the Earth’s Surface: Chemical Weathering, Soils and Natural Waters (Chapter 5,7,8)