Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module GEOL3337: Element Cycling at Subduction Zones

Department: Earth Sciences

GEOL3337: Element Cycling at Subduction Zones

Type Open Level 3 Credits 10 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • GEOL2231 Igneous and Metamorphic Processes


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To enhance knowledge on chemical behaviour of elements spanning the periodic table.
  • To apply petrographic and geochemical data to case studies of arc magmatism and interpret results in terms of magma genesis and element cycling between the surface and interior of the planet.


  • Dynamics and tectonics of island arcs, including ophiolites and subduction initiation.
  • Simple models of melting and fractional crystalisation.
  • Chemical inputs to subduction zones.
  • Oxygen fugacity and redox sensitive elements.
  • Radiogenic and stable isotopes.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Appreciate the primary control subduction exerts on global geochemical cycles.
  • Critically evaluate geochemical indicators of distinct processes during arc magma generation and evolution.
  • Understand uses and limitations of isotopic applications in arc systems.
  • Understand measurement and importance of oxygen fugacity and redox-sensitive elements in arc systems.
  • Introductory knowledge of the Integrated Ocean Discovery Program (IODP).
  • Introductory knowledge of computer-based melt models
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Critical appraisal of the use of geochemistry as applied to igneous rocks.
  • Holistic understanding of element behaviour and relation to cycling at subduction zones.
  • Understanding impact of deep earth cycles on surface Earth chemistry.
  • Comprehension of nano- to global scale chemical variations induced by subduction.
Key Skills:
  • Synthesize large amounts of information, including use of online databases such as GEOROC and GERM Kd Database.
  • Working with Excel data compilations and performing simple calculations and plot-making.
  • Basic introduction to computer- based melts models.
  • Small group working and presentation skills.
  • Critical paper reading and summary skills.
  • Time management.
  • Develop ability to link disparate STEM subjects (geology, chemistry, physics) and think beyond one discipline.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Research-led teaching to explore the primary control that subduction exerts on global geochemical cycles.
  • This module is delivered through one term of research-led teaching, delivered in 3 hour blocks which comprise a mixture of typically 1 hour lectures and typically 2 hour practicals, comprising formative exercises, group discussions and directed reading through which students learn about Earth processes and driving forces and acquire skills.
  • Coursework: Data interpretation. In the first week of the module, students will be given a spreadsheet of geochemical data to evaluate and interpret throughout the module as they build skills to do so.
  • Guidance on coursework and class test preparation will be provided

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture/Practical 10 Weekly 3 Hours 30
Independent reading, coursework and revision 70
Total 100

Summative Assessment

Component: Coursework Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Class Test 50%
Data Interpretation Assignment 50%

Formative Assessment:

Practical activities undertake similar data evaluation tasks as summative coursework. Formative feedback is ongoing through practical sessions Paper reading groups and informal presentation In groups of 4-6, students examine one scientific publication in detail and present their thoughts to the larger class. Papers are chosen to re-enforce previous lecture content

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University