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Chemistry of System Earth (CSE)


Chemistry of System Earth
Up to date schedule information

Provisional information (scheduling and location for 2015-2016 is not guaranteed)


As a planet in the habitable zone around the sun, Earth consists of several reservoirs that are characterized by profoundly different chemical compositions. The course introduces System Earth from a chemical perspective: what are the different reservoirs, and how do they interact with each other. Trace elements and radiogenic isotopes can be used as tracers for processes in the ‘rock cycle’.
Environmental conditions at the Earth surface are determined by long term processes: formation of continents, the carbonate buffer of the ocean basins, and the composition of the atmosphere. Whereas it is clear that for much of the time span known from the rock record, i.e. ca 4 billion years, surface temperatures have allowed the presence of liquid water, there is some argument as to the actual temperature levels.
Similarly, during these 4 billion years, the chemical composition of the oceans and atmosphere has shown a long term trend of slowly increasing oxygen contents as the result of photosynthesis at first from cyanobacteria and in the last 0.5 billion years from multicellular plants.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, the students should have an understanding of: – the fundamental processes governing Earth as a chemical system; – the influence of biological and inorganic processes on the Earth’s environment; – how Earth climate today is influenced by both short term and long term geochemical trends.


C. Cockell (ed): An Introduction to the Earth-Life System, CUP, 2008, isbn: 9780521729536. S. E. Harnung, M.S. Johnson, Chemistry and the Environment, CUP, 2012, isbn: 9781107682573.

Assessment method

Assignment & exam

Additional info

Contact information: Prof. Jan Wijbrans