GEOL10020 Earth Science and Materials

Academic Year 2023/2024

This module outlines the physical and chemical processes leading to the formation of Earth materials and introduces the economic uses and environmental significance of rocks. Topics include: minerals as the building blocks of rocks; melting, crystallization and the formation of igneous rocks; weathering, erosion, sedimentary processes and the formation of sedimentary rocks; stress, strain and the formation of geological structures; solid state recrystallization and the formation of metamorphic rocks; minerals, rocks, groundwater and hydrocarbons in industry and the environment.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:
1. Observe, identify, describe and interpret common minerals and rocks.
2. Identify ways in which geological processes create igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, and geological structures.
3. Identify the geological controls on the formation and exploitation of economic earth resources, such as groundwater, metallic minerals, petroleum and coal.
4. Identify the environmental significance of Earth materials in a global context.

Indicative Module Content:


Lecture 1: What are minerals and which mineral is which? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Definition. Importance of minerals as building blocks of rocks and as raw materials. Atomic structure; co-ordination number; ionic size and charge. Crystal structure and symmetry. Twinning. How to describe the properties of mineral hand specimens.

Lecture 2: What use are minerals? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Ore minerals and industrial minerals. Hydrothermal fluids and hydrothermal mineralization. Magmatic ore deposits. Residual ore deposits. Sedimentary ores deposits and industrial minerals.

Lecture 3: Which minerals are igneous rocks made of? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Mineralogy related to the gross structure of the Earth. Polymerisation as the basis for silicate classification. Crystallisation from magma. Olivine, pyroxenes, amphiboles, feldspars, micas and quartz in igneous rocks; atomic substitution and solid solutions.

Lecture 4: Volcanoes and volcanic rocks: evidence for past eruptions. (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Chemical composition, mineralogy and texture of basalt, andesite and rhyolite lavas; relationship of grain size to cooling rate; volcanic glasses; phenocrysts. Pyroclastic rocks, their textures and origin. Different types of volcanic eruption and volcano type. Relationship between style of eruption and chemical composition.

Lecture 5: What happens to magmas if they are not erupted? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Intrusive rocks. Magma left behind in volcanoes - hypabyssal rocks and their textures; sills and dykes. Magma crystallising deep in the Earth - plutonic rocks and their textures; plutons and batholiths; gabbro and granite; pegmatites and aplites; aureoles and hydrothermal veins. Why do some magmas erupt and others not? How do we know that intrusive rocks were once magmas? Chemical composition and mineralogy of common hypabyssal and plutonic rocks.

Lecture 6: Which minerals are sedimentary and metamorphic rocks made of? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Clastic minerals; chemically and biologically precipitated minerals; mineral polymorphism; minerals produced by weathering. Solid-state crystallisation; temperature, pressure and fluids in metamorphism; the role of aluminium; metamorphic minerals in pelitic and carbonate sedimentary rocks and in basic igneous rocks.

Lecture 7: Clastic sediments and sedimentary rocks. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Origin and classification of sedimentary rocks. Mineralogy and chemical composition. Grain size. Clastic sedimentary rocks - conglomerate, sandstone, siltstone, shale, mudrock. Types of sandstone. Texture and textural maturity. Controls on porosity and permeability. Bedding.

Lecture 8: Sediment transport and sedimentary structures. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Bedding and cross-bedding. Laminar vs. turbulent flow - natural examples. Reynolds Number. Sediment entrainment and transport. Bedforms – ripples and dunes. Plane beds. Parallel and ripple lamination. Factors influencing bedform development.

Lecture 9: Reconstructing palaeoenvironments. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Use of sedimentary structures to constrain flow directions, processes, the nature of the Earth's surface in the past and way-up. Characteristics of continental sediments - rivers vs. desert deposits. River channels and floodplains - the Corrib reservoir. Wind ripples and aeolian sand dunes. The record of deserts.

Lecture 10: Sedimentation in the ocean. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Shape of the seabed. Shallow marine processes and the structures they create. Wave-ripples and tidal cross-bedding. Bioturbation. Continental slopes. Gravity driven deposition. Slumps, debris flows and turbidity currents. Turbidites.

Lecture 11: Limestones. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Why and where do limestones form. Carbonate grain types. Composition and classification of limestones. Limestone-forming environments through time. Changes after deposition - silicification and dolomitisation.

Lecture 12: Organic sedimentary rocks. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Peat bogs have been exploited in Ireland for over a thousand years for agriculture, commonage and more recently for fuel. Coal and lignite have for centuries been the primary fuel in many countries. This lecture will focus on the environments, conditions and processes that lead to the development of peat, lignite and coal.

Lecture 13: How do rocks break? (Dr E. Holohan)
Fault classification, including dip, strike and prevailing stress conditions. Review of normal faults, reverse faults, and strike-slip faults and their tectonic significance. Determination of the sense and amount of movement on ancient faults. Geometry and formation of joints and boudinage.

Lecture 14: How do rocks bend? (Dr E. Holohan)
Ductile effects of compression, tension and shearing. Geometrical description of folds. Main controls on the geometry and mechanisms of folding, including plate tectonic setting. Geometry and significance of shear zones.

Lecture 15: When continents collide.
Regional metamorphism and orogeny. Foliation and lineation (hedgehogs, flat cats and toothpaste). Textural and mineralogical changes during regional metamorphism of shale. Mineral zones and isograds. Role of fluids.

Lecture 16: Regional metamorphism.
Mapping out a path in P, T, space and time. Metamorphic zones - variable burial depths and heat supply. Metamorphic effects in different tectonic environments. PT information from experiments on minerals. PT changes from mineral textures - evidence of reactions. Retrogression.

Lecture 17: Contact metamorphism.
Advective heating by magma. Contact metamorphism. Metamorphic aureoles. Contact metamorphism of shale and limestone. Fluids and the formation of skarns and hydrothermal mineral deposits.

Lecture 18: How does water move in rocks? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
The hydrologic cycle. The water table, aquifers, aquicludes, springs and wells. Movement of groundwater. Exploitation of groundwater and problems of saltwater intrusion. Groundwater pollution and its prevention. Hydrothermal waters and their products and uses.

Lecture 19: Building on solid foundations? (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Considerations in engineering, building and geotechnical investigations. Coastal erosion and natural geological phenomena that impact our built environment.

Lecture 20: The future of geoscience (Asst. Prof Kara English)
How geoscience will contribute to climate change policy and renewable sectors. Exploration of minerals and geoenergy for sustainable economic growth. Directions of future research.


Practical 1: Introduction to rocks and minerals. (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Description of the common minerals in granite as a means of mineral identification. Comparison of minerals in large single crystals to their occurrence in granite. Labelled sketching of granite. Understanding what is meant by the terms ‘mineral’ and ‘rock’, and the difference between them. Description and understanding of the textural and mineralogical differences between granite-derived stream sediment and granite.

Practical 2: Economic minerals and rocks. (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Description and identification of economic minerals. Labelled sketching and description of calcite, and its comparison with other common carbonate minerals. Understanding the processes that produce black smoker hydrothermal mineralization at mid-ocean ridges.

Practical 3: Igneous rocks and minerals. (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Measurement of grain size in igneous rocks and use of grain size to interpret where igenous rocks crystallized. Rhyolite: sketching, mineral recognition and textural interpretation. Systematic description of igneous rocks and naming of the rocks from an igneous rock classification diagram.

Practical 4: Introduction to sedimentary rocks. (Assoc. Prof. L. Amy)
Practical comprises six 15-minute tasks undertaken in teams and looking at (1) cement and porosity in sandstone, (2) texture and permeability in two wind blown sandstones, (3) use of cross-bedding, (4) distinction between wave and current ripples, and difference between (5) a high energy oolitic limestone and (6) a bioclastic wackestone.

Practical 5: Field Class - Deer Park (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Using a local area of granite outcrop, introduction to written description and sketching of rocks in the field. Observation and interpretation of mineralogy and textural features exposed in granite. Geological contacts and appreciation of the effect of bedrock geology on topography. Distinguishing between outcrops and boulders. Glacial sculpting and chemical weathering of granite.

Practical 6: Field Class - Belfield campus (Asst. Prof Kara English)
Description and interpretation of features seen in several facing, paving and ornamental stones on Belfield campus, including granites, limestones and sandstones. Appreciation of the properties required of dimension stones according to their intended use.

Practical 7: Metamorphic rocks.
Group microscopy exercise on Carrara marble – why is it suitable for sculpture?; How do we know the temperature at which a metamorphic rock crystallizes? – construction of a simple phase diagram (pressure vs temperature) from experimental data on the reaction calcite + quartz = wollastonite + CO2. From hand lens examination, answer a series of questions designed to explain the mineralogical and textural variation in metapelites (metamorphosed shale) including slate, andalusite hornfels, biotite schist and garnet mica schist.

“Earth: Portrait of a Planet”, 6th edition, by Stephen Marshak, published by W. W. Norton & Company. Additional online text will be available on Brightspace.

Online alternative: Physical Geology, K. Panchuk

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Autonomous Student Learning






Field Trip/External Visits




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Learning is through a series of lectures, practical and field classes. These are designed and scheduled so that facts and concepts are presented in lectures and then, where possible, reinforced through practical and field classes. Lectures will be in person. Practical and field classes will be given face-to-face. Module learning is further supported by the recommended textbook: "Earth: Portrait of a Planet", 6th edition, by Stephen Marshak, additional textbook resources will be provided on Brightspace. The module is assessed by two face-to-face MCQ exams, one covering the first part of the module and the other the remainder of the module. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Multiple Choice Questionnaire: 1-hour MCQ end of semester exam on second part of course 1 hour End of Trimester Exam n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Multiple Choice Questionnaire: MCQ mid-term exam on first part of course Week 5 n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn Yes - 1 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Written feedback is provided to students on practicals, normally a week after the relevant class. Oral feedback is given to the entire class on difficulties experienced by many students. Pre-exam quizzes are provided with and without correct answers, to allow students to measure their preparedness for MCQ exams.

"Earth: Portrait of a Planet", 6th edition, by S. Marshak

Online alternative: Physical Geology, K. Pancuk
Name Role
Dr Lawrence Amy Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Stephen Daly Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Peter Haughton Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Eoghan Holohan Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Professor Frank McDermott Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Patrick Orr Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Rioko Moscardini Tutor
Nikita Turton Tutor
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

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