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Earth Sciences

Subject Summary: Part IA Earth Sciences

The course is an introduction to the whole field of earth and planetary geology. It covers the nature and properties of the Earth, particularly of the mantle and the crust; observed and deduced processes of change both of the Earth's interior and also in its oceans and atmosphere; biological, physical, and chemical methods of dating to establish rates of geological and global environmental change; and major economic considerations. Emphasis is placed on practical and field work including general identifications and interpretation of rocks, interpretation of geological maps of large areas, and the use of fossils, sediments and rocks in determining internal and external changes. 

Much of the course is concerned with application of principles of physics, chemistry, and biology to gain an understanding of the behaviour of Earth and the planets, so that a school background in some of these subjects is necessary. Previous knowledge of geology is not necessary. Fieldwork is carried out in the Easter Vacation, and is an essential part of the course. 

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Programme Specification: Part IA Earth Sciences

This course is taught by the Department of Earth Sciences.


  1. to introduce the geological processes of the Earth and other planets, including plate tectonics, magmatism, metamorphism, rock deformation, atmosphere/ocean processes, climate change, erosion and sedimentation, and the evolution of the biosphere;
  2. to introduce key techniques in the study of the Earth, such as geophysical methods, petrographic study, geological maps and sections, sedimentological and palaeontological analysis, and compilation of regional geological history;
  3. to provide practical experience, in the laboratory and in the field, of these techniques and of the main classes of geological materials: minerals, fossils, and sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks;
  4. to provide sufficient geological foundation to enable students to continue with more specialised courses in Part IB Earth Sciences A and B.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students should have:

  1. acquired a broad understanding of the major systems of the Earth, and of the approaches used to understand them;
  2. learnt to identify and diagnose a range of geological materials and to analyse simple geophysical and geological data;
  3. developed the skill of writing concise, well structured and clearly illustrated descriptions and analyses of these topics;
  4. practised appropriate transferable skills, particularly problem solving, oral and written communication and teamwork (particularly in an outdoor field setting).

Teaching and Learning methods

The course is taught through lectures, practical classes, supervisions, and field courses, including a one-week residential course.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • one unseen written examination, based on material from all teaching methods (for aims 1-2 and learning outcomes 1-3);
  • one unseen practical examination, based mainly on material from practical and field classes (for aim 3 and learning outcomes 2 and 4) .

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None, but a strong science background is required.

Recommended: A Levels: At least two of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics. No previous subject knowledge is necessary.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.