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BSc Earth and Planetary Sciences / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course description

We are one of the largest Earth and Environmental Sciences departments in the UK, with global reach.

This creates excellent learning, research and employment opportunities for our students.

Mike Burton / Head of Department, Professor of Volcanology

Our 3 year BSc degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences is focussed on a holistic understanding of Earth systems in order to learn from the past, comprehend the present and influence the future. As Earth Science is at the crossroads of the natural sciences, it provides an enriching alternative to a single honours degree in subjects such as maths, physics, chemistry, geography or biology, and can open the door to an exciting range of career options.

On our course you will learn to read the 4.5 billion-year record of the Earth, including the formation of our solar system, the evolution of living systems and changing environmental conditions, while also studying the sustainable development of Earth's energy and resources. And on your doorstep will be some of the UK's wildest settings, ideal for outdoor learning.

During your time with us you will be a part of a dynamic community trying to answer some of the most pressing global issues that we all face. Your work could make a contribution to solving some of the world's greatest challenges.

Course structure

Our BSc in Earth and Planetary Sciences is a three year degree which offers you the flexibility to tailor your interest in Earth and Planetary Science in one of five pathways:

  • Geology;
  • Geochemistry;
  • Planetary science;
  • Energy and resources;
  • Palaeobiology.
The department

We are a Department of environmental scientists, geologists, chemists, mathematicians, biologists, physicists and computer scientists, who work together to study the Earth and planets. Our degrees cover the full breadth of earth and environmental sciences, reflecting the main research themes that are fundamental to the work we do in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The reputation of Earth and Planetary Science at The University of Manchester's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences rests on our world-leading interdisciplinary research into processes operating on, within and beyond the Earth. This research incorporates biological, chemical, physical and environmental aspects of the world and solar system we live in. The close alignment between our teaching and research ensures that units are delivered by scholars who are at the forefront of their disciplines.


Our course will equip you with an armoury of skills to take into the world of work, including the ability to analyse problems, to work collaboratively as part of a team, and to develop field, laboratory, numeracy and communication skills.

Special features

  • Study in one of the largest departments of Earth and Environmental Science, giving access to a wide range of specialisms;
  • An integrated natural science first year, tailored to the Earth, planets and their environments, allows you to discover where your interests lie;
  • Develop knowledge and practical skills that you can apply to interpreting and predicting the Earth's structure and resources;
  • Field trips  are a key component of our undergraduate degrees, providing you the opportunity to travel to fascinating locations in the UK and abroad in every year. Fees include all compulsory, taught field courses. Previous locations include: Spain; France; Guatemala; Italy; Montserrat; Nicaragua; Scotland; USA and Wales;
  • Transfer onto a  4-year MEarthSci  to gain significant research experience, with the option to incorporate a  year in industry , complete a  research placement  or  study at an international university .

Teaching and learning

How will you learn?

We take pride in our excellent teaching standards, and our distinguished lecturers and research staff will ensure that you have all the support available to develop your learning, skills and employability prospects.

You will benefit from a wide range of teaching and learning methods that suit the content and aims of each course unit, including:

  • Formal lectures
  • Laboratory classes
  • Field classes
  • Small-group tutorials

Two-thirds of your contact time will be focussed on the development of practical skills. Teamwork, problem-solving and field work play a key role in integrating all the elements of your subject, and will also develop transferable skills across areas of specialisation, enabling you to succeed in your future career.

Field work

Field work is a key component of our undergraduate degrees and is an essential part of all our courses and provides a unique learning experience:

  • Field work gives you the chance to apply knowledge learned in lectures and practical classes to real settings, allowing you to develop the skills of a professional earth and environmental scientist, such as observing, collecting, recording and interpreting a range of data;
  • Venues vary from classic areas of the British Isles to locations across the globe. Field courses are tailored to meet the needs of each pathway;
  • Most field courses are residential and provide a great chance to form friendships with staff and your fellow students in an informal setting, and to travel and experience different cultures.
Lecturers and world-leading researchers

Our department has a diverse mix of respected lecturers and research staff who are at the forefront of their fields. Find out more about our  lecturers, researchers and support staff  in the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, including information about their  specific areas of interest  and research, qualifications and publications.

Personal academic advisor

Throughout your degree course, you'll be assigned an Academic Advisor, who is there to support you and give advice about any academic issues throughout the duration of your course. Your advisor will be able to help you with the transition from school or college to university and can help you get to grips with studying and learning more independently. They'll also be able to help you develop your skills in academic writing or research, making presentations, or any other skills that are specific to your degree programme.

Peer support scheme

Our peer support scheme is one of the largest in Europe. Peer mentors are higher-year students on the same degree programme as you, who will help you find your feet when you arrive here and adjust to student life. As they'll have already been a student at Manchester for at least a year, they should be able to help you with anything you might be worried or unsure about.

PASS (Peer Assisted Study Sessions)

Led by volunteer students, PASS sessions will often be based around a specific area of study. You'll have the opportunity to consolidate and build on your existing knowledge through discussion with other students in an informal and supportive environment, where you can compare notes, analyse, ask questions and talk through ideas.

Research project

You'll also undertake an independent project in Year 3 that is tailored to your chosen pathway.

Coursework and assessment

This course is assessed by a variety of methods, including:

  • Exams;
  • Essays and written assignments;
  • Projects;
  • Oral and written presentations;
  • Field assessment.

We place a strong emphasis on practical skills and project work. Around one-third of your assessment in year 3 on independent research projects.

Course unit details

Our Earth and Planetary Science course covers all major aspects of the earth system. The course has a common first year, allowing you to choose your degree specialisation that you will follow in years 2 and 3. You will develop core knowledge alongside a choice of optional units.

Course content for year 1

Our first year will introduce you to the modern way we study the Earth. The emphasis in the first year is on building foundational knowledge in the natural sciences, tailored to the Earth, planets and their environments, and on developing practical and transferrable skills.

During this year you will study the principles that underlie all our degree specialisations and will receive one-on-one advice to help you choose your preferred pathway at the end of the first year.  Every first year student will be supported by our peer mentoring schemes and small group work with an academic tutor.

The first year units will develop your theoretical knowledge, your numerical, field and laboratory skills, and aid your professional development.

Course units for year 1

The course unit details given below are subject to change, and are the latest example of the curriculum available on this course of study.

TitleCodeCredit ratingMandatory/optional
DEES First Year PASS EART10020 0 Mandatory
Understanding the Earth EART11100 40 Mandatory
The Natural Scientist's Toolkit EART11200 40 Mandatory
Practical and Professional Skills Development EART11300 40 Mandatory

Course content for year 2

In year 2 you will tailor your studies to your own academic interests by focusing on a particular aspect of the Earth and planetary sciences.  Each pathway  consists of a series of core units and extends topics from your first year, introducing new areas in your area of specialisation.

For an indicative list of the course units for each pathway, please click on the links below:

Geology - The Earth's rocks and minerals preserve a 4.5 billion year record of global change. In this pathway you will learn how to read that rock record and develop an understanding of the physical processes responsible for it.

Planetary Science -  In this pathway you will gain the skills of a professional geologist while pursuing a broader interest in planetary science, developing an understanding of how the Earth and other planets have been shaped by the prehistory, formation and evolution of our solar system.

Geochemistry - Understanding the chemistry of the Earth is fundamental to challenges such as managing resources like precious minerals and oil, understanding climate change at the molecular level, and the control of pollution. In this pathway you will also study the composition and evolution of the planets, melting and mineral reactions in Earth's interior, and Earth's (bio)geochemical cycles.

Energy and Resources -  In this pathway you'll study units that are focussed on resource formation, ranging from metal and hydrocarbon resources, to nuclear energy and groundwater resources. You will also study sustainable and efficient extraction of resources, while acquiring the skills suitable for a thriving energy and resources job market.

Palaeobiology - Palaeobiology addresses major questions relating to the Earth's living systems, their interplay over geological time, and the genesis and evolution of today's living world. This pathway takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining the study of the biodiversity and ecology of modern and ancient life, with training in the geological processes that shape the history and future of Earth.

Course content for year 3

In your final year, you can choose from a wide range of course units made up of core units from within your own pathway specialization units from other pathways offered within the Earth and Planetary Science degree, as well as units from our other degree in Environmental Sciences. A range of units are offered which have an applied focus to help you prepare for your future career, including case studies that will allow you to follow a project, such as the establishment of a mine, from its inception to final abandonment.

Alternatively, you may choose to study a course from the University's College for Interdisciplinary Learning , including our innovative Leadership in Action course, which combines study with volunteering and personal development.

You'll undertake a research project that is tailored to your degree pathway specialisation. You will collect data in the field and laboratory to answer a scientific question of your choice.

Scholarships and bursaries

The University of Manchester is committed to attracting and supporting the very best students. We have a focus on nurturing talent and ability and we want to make sure that you have the opportunity to study here, regardless of your financial circumstances.

For information about scholarships and bursaries please visit our undergraduate student finance pages and our the Department funding pages .


We teach our practical sessions in custom-designed, well-equipped laboratories with enough space for you to have your own microscope and work comfortably on your own or in a group.

All our courses are driven and inspired by the  latest research  in the department, so we also give you access to our most advanced and sophisticated research facilities:

Teaching resources
  • Innovative, research-led, eLearning tools to enhance your understanding;
  • A well-equipped, dedicated undergraduate study area providing a place for relaxation and somewhere to work with your fellow students within the Department;
  • Close supervision and pastoral care by an academic staff member during the whole degree course.
World-leading research facilities
  • Analytical geochemistry unit for analysing water and solid geological matter;
  • Scanning electron microscope - for imaging a wide range of samples, from polished rock sections to bacteria to Egyptian mummies;
  • Cameca electron probe - used for the quantitative analysis of a wide variety of geological samples;
  • In-situ and remote sensing instrumentation for the study of clouds, aerosols, radiation and dynamics;
  • Advanced isotope geochemistry and cosmochemistry suite.
The Manchester Museum

The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences has close links with the Manchester Museum and its extensive geological collections.

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: