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Survey of environmental geobiochemistry

Chemical composition and structure of the Earth

This survey provides a quick overview of the chemistry of the world around us;
it should be suitable for advanced-HS and college-level students and teachers.

Direct jumps to the 12 Web pages of this unit

The Earth and its lithosphere

1 Composition and structure of the Earth

2 Origin of the chemical elements

3 Formation and evolution of the Earth

4 The Earth's crust

The Hydrosphere

The Atmosphere

The Biosphere


Geochemistry is the study of the composition and chemical changes that take place on the Earth and within its major divisions: the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Environmental chemistry focusses more specifically on the transport of substances within and between these geospheres and their subdivisions, with special emphasis on the effects brought about by the activities of humans.

In order to understand environmental chemistry, one must clearly have some basic knowledge of geochemistry, and also of the biological processes that are intimately tied into it. The purpose of this unit is to provide some of this background information on the structure and chemical composition of the Earth and of its environmentally important divisions, and on the changes that these have undergone with time.

This unit was originally prepared for the environmental chemistry course I gave at Simon Fraser University between 1984-99. The first two weeks of this course were devoted to an overview of the Earth as a whole, and this text provided the required background reading. Later on, the course was reconstituted to place more emphasis on the aquatic environment, hence the much greater detail in that section of this document.

Having done all this work, I thought it might be useful to extend it a bit and make it available to others— both to teachers, and, of course, to students.

Web links

I have spent some time searching out some useful Web links relating to the various topics in this unit. Keeping them up to date, of course, will be something of a problem, so I’ll make no promises! Here are some general ones that are worth knowing about.

Columbia University survey course

The links in this lecture schedule are very well done and they cover numerous topics relating to the formation of Earth and the development and evolution of living organisms.

USC Oceanography course

This page has many links to the history of the Earth

Note: A pdf version of this Survey of Environmental Geobiochemistry suitable for printing (about 60 pages) can be downloaded. It contains substantially the same material as the Web version (less a few graphics), but is not updated.

 Page last modified: 21.01.2008