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Geology and sustainability

The sustainability of the relationship between humans and Earth is at the core of this module. Humans depend on planet Earth; it provides everything from a habitable biosphere to the raw materials needed to manufacture goods and produce energy. However, in going about our activities, from daily life to the extraction of mineral resources, we’re placing our planet under severe strain. By studying Earth as a connected system, you'll examine how potential solutions to sustainability problems in the geology field could also have negative consequences – navigating this complexity is another critical component of this module.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

Each topic is a similar length and addresses your skills balance.

The first 18 weeks of the module comprises five topics:

Earth’s climate system
This topic explores the theory and geological record of climate change. It gives you the tools to understand Earth’s climate regulation over geological timescales. A focus is on the feedback loops that characterise the climate system and the nature of tipping points that can lead to rapid change when critical thresholds are crossed.

This topic explores the world’s oceans, including their physical structure and the geological record of their history and evolution. A focus is on the relationship of the oceans to Earth’s climate and ocean changes that result from human activity. Another focus is appreciating the critical role oceans will play in Earth’s future and the need for humans to adapt to changing conditions.

Hard-rock geology and resources
In this topic, you’ll explore the geology underlying the deposition of minerals that are key economic resources. It gives you tools to understand why certain minerals are deposited in particular regions and experience acquiring and analysing data. This topic will also explore the tension between mining practices and the need to minimise the climatic impacts of industrial activity.

Life and time
This topic involves studying how Earth’s ecosystems have evolved and examining how geological time is established. You’ll examine how ancient ecosystems are represented in the fossil record and how life has responded to critical intervals of environmental change in the geological past. You’ll explore the importance of quantifying the rates of processes in the geological past and examine the significance of human impact on the earth system in the context of geological time.

Volcanoes: a GIS perspective
This topic involves exploring geographic information systems (GIS) and using them to define and examine geological issues. You’ll first learn the basic anatomy and essential functions of GIS. Then, you’ll experience how GIS software works by completing hands-on activities via a web browser – creating maps, adding data and posing geological questions. You’ll also practice your new skills using GIS analysis to solve real-world geological problems.

The final 13 weeks of the module focus on an in-depth investigation of a problem at the interface between geology and sustainability. The first part of this investigation involves scoping and summarising issues of this nature you’ve encountered in weeks 1–18 and found in the scientific literature. You’ll do this part of the investigation in collaboration with your peers. The second part of this investigation involves independently producing a website summarising your investigation.

You will learn

This module focuses on developing personal skills, professional skills and employability skills. In particular, effective communication with various audiences using graphical and written methods, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. You’ll learn how to apply knowledge and understanding to evaluate and address challenges at the interface of geology and sustainability. You’ll further your skills in finding and utilising different lines of evidence and appreciating the limits of current knowledge. The final assessment spans the last 13 weeks of the module and culminates in the production of a website. This work develops your communication, planning and collaborative skills in a supportive environment with your peers, encouraging your independence.

Vocational relevance

You’ll develop skills directly relevant to employability throughout the module. This module focuses on professional and employability skills to enable you to work more effectively independently and as part of a team. Employment opportunities exist across the public sector (including local authorities and the civil service), private sector (large and small businesses) and voluntary sectors (e.g. charities and non-governmental organisations).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.
  • Supporting you during collaborative work.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

The module has two TMAs, which directly assess your learning in the first 18 weeks of the course. The assessment focuses on communicating the scientific concepts and issues covered in the course material and involves both graphical and written methods of communication.

The EMA assesses your in-depth investigation of a problem at the interface between geology and sustainability (in the final 13 weeks of the module) in two ways. The first part of the investigation involves collaboration with your peers. The EMA doesn’t directly assess the collaboration. Instead, we ask you to reflect on your personal experience working with others and the EMA evaluates this written reflection. The second part of this investigation involves your independent production of a website that communicates different aspects of your investigation, which part of the EMA assesses.

Future availability

Geology and sustainability (S319) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need an appropriate knowledge of earth sciences obtained through:

  • OU level 1 and 2 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £1818.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2030.

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In the meantime, explore our overview of Fees and funding.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • course-specific module materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • module discussion area.

Where possible, materials will also be available in Microsoft Word and as PDFs, but some materials and activities will be unsuitable for these formats.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S319 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.