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MSc in Earth Science

This MSc course explores current aspects of earth science, investigating how the interactions between the Earth's lithosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere are dependent upon each other and interact at a variety of temporal and spatial scales. You will learn to critically evaluate current research and gain skills that allow you to keep your knowledge of earth science up to date. You will investigate how to deal with complex interacting earth systems and understand the consequences for changing the balance between different components. You will learn to quantify some parts of earth systems and to communicate scientific information to specialists and non-specialists.

Study Mode

Online Education, Distance Learning & External study modes available

Career relevance and employability

Completing this MSc course will equip you with a set of key transferable skills, which will be relevant to earth science, as well as providing you with a basis of postgraduate level science skills. You will learn to critically evaluate current research and advanced scholarship in your field of study as well as evaluating research methodologies. You will discover how to deal with complex issues and make sound judgements and decisions in complex and unpredictable situations.

You will learn to communicate information and conclusions to specialist and non-specialist audiences including professional audiences, demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems and act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a postgraduate level.

The nature of this qualification will develop your independent learning skills and enhance your ICT skills in locating information and communicating with others in both professional and academic contexts.

There is more information about how OU study can improve your employability in the OU's Employability Statement from our Careers Advisory Service. You can also read or download our publication OU study and your career and look at our subject pages to find out about career opportunities.


For this 180-credit masters degree you require:

30 credits from the following optional undergraduate modules (or from transferred credit):

Undergraduate optional modules Credits Next start
Oceanography (S330)

Oceans cover seventy percent of the Earth's surface. This course investigates their physics, chemistry and biology, and the structure of the basins that contain them.

See full description.

30 Feb FINAL
The geological record of environmental change (S369)

Explore evidence of environmental change in the geological record, including sedimentary sequences, climatic and tectonic processes, the 'greenhouse' Cretaceous world, and the Ice Age.

See full description.

30 Feb
Understanding the continents (S339)

This wide-ranging course develops your knowledge of the continents, plate-tectonic processes and related issues in depth: its theme is crustal evolution in contrasting environments.

See full description.

30 Nov

and 150 credits from the following compulsory modules:

Postgraduate compulsory modules Credits Next start
Developing research skills in science (S825)

This course helps you develop your knowledge and understanding of the research skills and techniques relevant to scientific study at postgraduate level.

See full description.

30 Oct
Earth science: a systems approach (S808)

Introduces a systems approach to earth science and explores several important earth system interactions using a variety of methods and models.

See full description.

60 Jan
MSc project module (S810)

Plan and carry out an investigation of your own choice with this masters-level project course in science, and develop essential skills like report writing.

See full description.

60 Nov

Educational aims

The overall aim of the qualification is to develop knowledge and understanding, cognitive skills, key skills and practical and professional skills in the study of Earth Science, using a systems approach. In summary, the aims of the qualification are to allow you to:

  • develop an understanding of scientific principles and current issues underlying the main areas of Earth Science
  • critically reflect on how these processes operating over a range of temporal and spatial scales impact on present and future socio-economic systems
  • develop the skills and a critical understanding of methodological approaches essential to postgraduate study in science.

After completing the qualification you should be able to:

  • use electronic means of communication, information searching and retrieval
  • critically assess literature in Earth Science
  • prepare an extended piece of writing, scientific reviews, and an online presentation that critically engage with current theoretical, methodological and/or practical issues in Earth Science.

Generic skills developed in assignments include: use of text and electronic resources, reflection on developing understanding of overarching themes in the qualification, critical reading, comprehension, communication to specialist and non-specialist audiences, synthesis of information, critical understanding of complex scientific issues.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

  • a systematic understanding, knowledge and critical awareness of scientific debates within Earth Science, based on international and current research findings at the forefront of this study area
  • a comprehensive understanding of methodologies and techniques applicable to advanced scholarship in the different areas of scientific study within Earth Science.

Cognitive skills

  • critically evaluate current research and advanced scholarship across the field of Earth Science and associated areas in Science
  • evaluate research methodologies and develop critiques and propose alternative hypotheses, where appropriate
  • deal with complex science-based issues both systematically and proficiently, and make sound judgements in the absence of complete data
  • address decision-making in complex and unpredictable situations
  • demonstrate advanced scholarship in the application of knowledge

Practical and/or professional skills

  • continue advancement of knowledge and understanding in selected scientific areas within Earth Science
  • exercise initiative and personal responsibility
  • develop and use independent learning skills required for continuing professional development.

Key skills

  • communicate information and conclusions effectively, both to specialist and non-specialist audiences
  • continue to develop relevant new skills to a high level
  • demonstrate self-direction in tackling and solving problems
  • act autonomously in planning and implementing tasks at a professional level
  • use information and communications technology (ICT) to locate information and to communicate within the University and with others.

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