The geological, biological and environmental development of the Earth over the first 4 billion years of its history, from its formation to the rise of animals, with the aim of understanding how the modern Earth came to be and whether it serves as an analogue for the development of other habitable planets. Week 1 - Differentiation of the primitive Earth: do extinct isotope systems from terrestrial and meteoritic materials constrain the timing and sequence of events during planetary accretion, core formation and moon formation? (Schoenberg et al., Yin et al., Kleine et al.) Week 2 - Origin of continental crust: did it appear as soon as the planet had differentiated in something like its current volume, or did it grow gradually over time? (Sylvester et al., Collerson & Kamber, Wilde et al.) Week 3 - Antiquity of plate tectonics: when did the modern-style tectonic regime arise and were tectonic processes as recorded by the Archean geological record fundamentally different to those prevailing today? (Hamilton, Wyman & Kerrich, Polat et al.) Week 4 - Archean depositional environments: what geological variables were responsible for the differences evident between Archean and modern surficial rocks, if any? (Eriksson et al., England & Bickle, Condie) Week 5 - Early atmospheric composition: is there evidence for a sudden rise in atmospheric oxygenation at ~2.0 billion years ago and if so, why did it occur and what was the atmosphere like beforehand? (Ohmoto, Holland & Beukes, Catling et al.) Week 6 - Precambrian ocean composition: was it hot, caustic, sulfidic, ferruginous, hypersaline or any of the other proposed extreme scenarios, or was it similar in chemistry to today? (Knauth, Canfield, Kempe et al.) Week 7 - "Snowball Earth" and other extreme environmental excursions: did these hypothesized extreme events (Gersternkorn event, global inundation) actually occur? (Hoffman et al., Leather et al., Condon et al.) Week 8 - Radiation of microbial life: were most metabolic and morphological innovations achieved by microbes already extant in the Archean? (Shen et al., Brocks et al., Schopf) Week 9 - Multicellularity and sex: when did morphological complexity arise, how did it occur and why was it an evolutionary advantage? (Butterfield, Han & Runnegar, Dacks & Roger) Week 10 - Appearance of animals: did this event cause a mass extinction of marine microbes, algae or any other taxa? (Vidal & Knoll, Awramik, Narbonne)
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
A lecture/seminar course for 3 credit points, with 1 lecture and 3 readings per week (only 1 per person) accompanied by student presentations on the readings. 3 hours class time per week, flexibly scheduled (turn up at the first session on first Monday of quarter, 1.30pm JHN 223 and we'll set a convenient time for future meetings, or email me)
Do the readings, attend the classes, participate in discussions (all the usual suspects)!
Class assignments and grading
A couple of oral presentations (~20 minutes) over the course of the quarter, plus a term paper (~3000 words)
Assessment - 60% on term paper, 30% on presentations (at least 2 per student), and 10% on participation in discussions.