Geobiology and evolution of life on Earth

Postgraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

This course aims to give an overview of the geobiology and evolution of life on Earth, from the rise of single-cellular life nearly four billion years to the ompact of human activity in the present-day world. It focusses on interactions between the geosphere and biosphere through geological time, aims to critically assess lines of evidence for life in the rock record and demonstrate connections between life and changes in atmospheric and ocean chemistry, paleoclimate and paleogeography.  

The course consists of five modules: life in our solar system, the evolution of single-cellular life, the evolution of multicellular life, the evolution of plants and animals, and life into the Anthropocene. In these modules, it discusses the requirements for life in our solar system and the origin of life on Earth, provides an overview of the tools that can be used to search for traces of life in the rock record (morphological fossils, organic biomarkers, stable isotopes), and discusses the evolution of the geosphere, biosphere and interactions between them form the Archean to the Anthropocene, including major geobiological events such as the great oxidation event, Cambrian explosion and Permian-Triassic mass extinction.

Learning Outcomes

Om completion of the course the student should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:



The student

  • can explain how the evolution of life is coupled to the geochemical evolution of Earth
  • can discuss the geobiological differences between the Archean, Proterozoic and Phanerozoic
  • can discuss the major geobiological events in Earth's history (e.g great oxidation event, Cambrian explosion, Permian-Triassic mass extinction)
  • can evaluate lines of evidence for life from the rock record throughout Earth history
  • can assess the habitability of moons and planets in and outside our solar system


The student

  • is able to search and critically review scientific literature on topics in geobiology
  • is able to debate and argue for different viewpoints on a controversial topic in geobiology
  • is able to query global databases and demonstrate key events graphically and with basic analyses
  • is able to construct (simple) box models to assess geochemical cycles through time


General competence

The student

  • is able to create a scientific poster and present this to a specialist audience
  • is able to work with and extract information form large datasets with real scientific data
  • is able to use precise scientific language in written and ora presentations
  • is able to work individually as well as co-operate constructively in groups
  • is able to peer review scientific work from colleagues

Semester of Instruction

Required Previous Knowledge
GEOV109 Introduction to geochemistry or similar
Recommended Previous Knowledge
GEOV114 Introduction to geobiology
Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
Access to the Course
Access to the course requires admission to a master's programme at The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.
Teaching and learning methods
Teaching is organized in (short) lectures (maximum 2 hours/week), and student-active exercises (4 hours/week plus homework) for 12 weeks. The last two weeks of the course are used to prepare and present a poster.
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
Obligatory participitation in the exercises, poster presentation and handing in of report. Compulsory activities and assignments are valid for 3 semesters, including the one in which they were approved.
Forms of Assessment
The forms of assessment are: portfolio assessment that includes peer evaluation of fellow students on poster presentation, poster presentation, written report and a selection of the exercises.
Grading Scale
The grading scale used is A to F. Grade A is the highest passing grade in the grading scale, grade F is a fail.
Assessment Semester
Assessment is offered only in the actual semester in which teaching is given.
Reading List
The reading list will be available within June 1st for the autumn semester and december 1st for the spring semester.
Course Evaluation
The course will be evaluated by the students in accordance with the quality assurance system at UoB and the department.
Programme Committee
The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and course.