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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, humans are placing our planet under severe strain. By studying Earth as a connected system, you’ll examine how potential solutions to sustainability problems in the field of geology may also have negative consequences – navigating this complexity collaboratively with your peers is a central component of the module.

What you will study

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

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.

Geographic Information Systems
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.

You will learn

This module focuses on developing personal skills, professional skills and employability skills. In particular, effective communication with various audiences, 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 develops your planning and collaborative skills in a supportive environment, encouraging your independence.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

However, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of earth sciences. You’d normally prepare by having passed:

You should prepare to develop your independent learning and collaboration skills.

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 Monterey 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.

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 ends with a synthetic assessment over eight weeks that involves developing a possible solution to a problem at the interface of geology and sustainability. This involves planning, structural project development, and collaboration with peers supported by a tutor. The end-of-module assessment gives you an authentic experience of working collaboratively towards a common goal.

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.

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.

Course work includes:

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