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 SCI 241 - Earth System Science II

This course is a continuation of the Earth Sciences Track that began with an introduction (SCI 141) to the geological terminology, tools and phenomena and some of the fundamental processes that give rise to these phenomena on and in our planet. Earth System Science examines all of the systems in and across the various geospheres in detail. This includes theory of specific system tools, biogeochemical cycles, energy and mass balances, reservoirs and fluxes. System perturbations and forcings will be discussed as well, such as global warming and sea level rise. The Software models STELLA and OLI are used as supportive tools for practicals to examine and demonstrate system features and workings. The purpose of this course is to integrate the factual knowledge obtained in SCI 141 with the system workings studied in SCI 241, so that the student is well equipped for analyzing, researching and predicting case studies as is expected in the next level course: SCI 341.

The course is divided into seven modules, which cover both the deep and the surface earth. The former concerns systems which are accessible to direct human observation, so that the challenge is to discover the rules that produce the detailed patterns of dynamic change in the solid, liquid, gaseous, and living components of the surface. The latter concerns systems that possibly are less complex but must be observed, for the most part, indirectly.

For the outer earth spheres (the bio-, litho-, atmo- and hydro- sphere) the biogeochemical cycling of main elements, the dynamics of circulation in the atmosphere and ocean, the magnitude of mass and energy fluxes, feedback couplings and mass and energy balances will be investigated. Also, the GAIA model and it’s assumption that life itself creates conditions that are optimal for its existence will be discussed. Since climatic change is the main focus of research and concern nowadays, paleoclimatic conditions will be reviewed, and climate models will be explained.  The use of resources, the production of hazardous substances in the light of future climate developments will be discussed.

For the (inner) deep earth, the challenge is to understand the instruments, mathematics, and geophysical theory needed to interpret a wide variety of remote observations of the interior in a way that provides a globally consistent description of the history and future of our planet.  Knowledge of the deep earth is essential to explaining many components of surface systems. Its composition is a clue to the history of our solar system and the evolution of other planetary systems containing habitable planets. The chemically, thermally, and electromagnetically controlled dynamics of the core dynamo produce changes in the external magnetic field that shields the surface from some forms of radiation and aids in the navigation of migratory animals.   The thermal-chemical convection of the mantle drives the plate tectonics that has shaped climate and evolutionary history, and determines the location of surface deposits of deep earth minerals such as diamonds.

The purpose of this course is to enable the students to describe system processes as well as the means through which they have been modeled. To do so they will need to learn the specialized terminologies and mathematics and biochemistry of the relevant disciplines and to relate these to intuitive (physical) explanations. Both the knowledge and skills acquired should serve as a foundation for participation in the graduate seminars through which advanced topics typically are explored in the earth sciences.


Dr. Renata van der Weijden and Dr. Joseph Resovsky, Tom Zoutewelle, Prof. Ruud Schotting​ 


Earth Science



The following courses are required in order to take this course:

  • SCI 111 Mathematical Ideas and Methods in Contexts
  • SCI 141 Earth System Science I

Required for

This course is required in order to take the following course:

  • SCI 341 Advanced Earth Science