Low-Temperature Geochemistry
EAS 537

Instructor: Dr. Kurt Konhauser

Times: Tuesday 9-11 and Friday 9-11 in ESB 1-33

Introduction: From its origins, perhaps some 4 billion years ago, life has had a profound influence on shaping the evolving Earth. Biological innovations have led to lasting environmental change, while geology feeds back on biology, creating new opportunities for evolutionary innovation. For over 80% of Earth's living history, biological processes were driven exclusively by microorganisms. Because microorganisms are ubiquitous in environments where the temperature is below <100oC, the field of low-temperature geochemistry is thus a study of the relationships between the microbial life forms and their environment, from localised niches, which occur on the order of micrometers, to global elemental cycles. On each of these scales, there exists a complex interplay of biogeochemical processes that are based on the nutritional and energy requirements of co-dependent species living in juxtaposition to one another. In other words, the metabolic waste from one type of microbe nearly always provides substrate for another living in close proximity, and collectively, these metabolic pathways maintain a temporary environmental homeostasis. In this course we briefly examine some of the characteristic properties of microorganisms, which will then serve as a foundation for the chemical reactions encountered in nature.


Aims: This course has been structured to present a broad and updated overview of some of the Geomicrobiological processes typically associated with low-temperature systems. It is hoped that at the end of the course you will have a greater understanding of the various ways in which microorganisms interact with their environment, and because of their ubiquity, will better appreciate that strictly inorganic systems are generally not applicable in the surface environment.


Objectives: This course will consist of 22 hours of lectures, 7 hours of seminars, 2 hours of revision, and a 2 hour midterm. During the lectures we will briefly examine various aspects of microbial-geochemical interactions, beginning with an introduction to microbial metabolism and their evolution. Various discussions on the interactions of microorganisms with the environment follow, ranging from weathering, soil processes, clay formation, metal complexation, biomineralization and sediment diagenesis. Practical aspects will also be stressed, including bioleaching, biorecovery and bioremediation. The purpose of the seminars are to provide an opportunity at active learning, by sharing the responsibility for selecting and structuring subject-matter, as well as establishing context and links to related concepts and content previously learned in this course. The seminars also fulfil the active learning approach in that it offers the opportunity to improve communication skills in a wide variety of ways. This includes, (i) research, planning and oral presentations, (ii) listening and questioning in the post-seminar discussions and (iii) succinct writing for the summary reports.


Assessment:

40% mid-term  
60% seminars oral presentation (20%)
    role as lead questioner (5%)
    written report (35%) DUE APRIL 18

Reading list: There will be no required text, but selected journal papers or textbook chapters will be suggested for each lecture.

Week
Date
Time
Topic
1
Fri., Jan. 10
9:00-11:00
Microbial Metabolism
 
 
2
Tues., Jan. 14
9:00-11:00
Microbial Metabolism
Fri., Jan. 17
9:00-11:00
Origins of Life
 
 
3
Tues., Jan. 21
9:00-11:00
Chemical Weathering/Carbonate Equilibria
Fri., Jan. 24
9:00-11:00
Weathering - Soil Formation
 
 
4
Tues., Jan. 28
9:00-11:00
Weathering - Acid Mine Drainage/Basalts
Fri., Jan. 31
9:00-11:00
Soil Elemental Cycling
 
 
5
Tues., Feb. 4
9:00-11:00
Clay Formation
Fri., Feb. 7
9:00-11:00
Metal Sorption
 
 
6
Tues., Feb. 11
9:00-11:00
NO CLASSES
Fri., Feb. 14
9:00-11:00
NO CLASSES
 
 
7
Tues., Feb. 25
9:00-11:00
NO CLASSES
Fri., Feb. 28
9:00-11:00
NO CLASSES
 
 
8
Tues., Mar. 4
9:00-11:00
Biomineralization
Fri., Mar. 7
9:00-11:00
Diagnesis
 
 
9
Tues., Mar. 11
9:00-11:00
Revision
Fri., Mar. 14
9:00-11:00
MID-TERM
 
 
10
Tues., Mar. 18
9:00-11:00
Seminars
Fri., Mar. 21
9:00-11:00
Seminars
 
 
11
Tues., Mar. 25
9:00-11:00
Seminars
Fri., Mar. 28
9:00-11:00
Seminars
 
 
12
Tues., Apr. 1
9:00-11:00
NO CLASSES
Fri., Apr. 4
9:00-11:00
NO CLASSES