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Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, we will be prioritising face to face teaching as part of a blended learning approach that builds on the lessons learned over the course of the Coronavirus pandemic. Teaching will vary between online and on-campus delivery through the year, and you should read guidance from the academic department for details of how this will work for a particular module. You can find out more about the University’s overall response to Coronavirus at:

PX399-15 The Earth and Its Atmosphere

Undergraduate Level 3
Module leader
Rebecca Milot
Credit value
Module duration
10 weeks
100% exam
Study location
University of Warwick main campus, Coventry
Introductory description

This module describes the behaviour of the solid Earth and its atmosphere. We will look at the models of the Earth's outer structure and its core as well as how they are probed using seismic activity, magnetic and heat signatures. We will also investigate how the composition and physical properties of the Earth's atmosphere influence both local weather events and global climate trends.

Module web page

Module aims

To present an understanding of the Earth and its atmosphere in terms of simple physical principles. By the end of the module, students should appreciate how, with simple ideas from electromagnetism, mechanics and thermodynamics, it is possible to explain most of what we call 'weather' and to understand the motion and structure of the solid Earth.

Outline syllabus

This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.

  1. Introduction: The basic characteristics of Earth, its formation during the early Solar System and the measurement of geological time using radiometric dating.
  2. Earth's geometry: Spherical co-ordinates, consequences of spherical geometry, gravity measurements and anomalies due to variations in density. The different models of isostasy and the consequences for mountain heights.
  3. Seismology: Types of seismic waves, earthquake location and magnitudes and the determination of Earth's interior.
  4. Plate tectonics: Plate movement on flat earth, rotation poles, past and present plate motions and the role of Earth's magnetic field.
  5. Heat: Overview of the Earth's heat budget, heat flow in its interior, convection in the mantle, thermal structure of the core and the origin of Earth's magnetic field.
  6. Description of the atmosphere: layer profile; atmospheric energy balance; origin of the earth's atmosphere and the role of life in determining past and future climates; pressure and temperature profiles
  7. Vertical motion and role of water: Atmospheric stability; evaporation and condensation; precipitation; atmospheric electricity
  8. Global circulation patterns: Pressure gradients and their origins; the Coriolis force; synoptic scale motion; global climates; influence of the oceans
Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Discuss the physical principles governing the Earth's radioactivity, gravity, waves, heat and magnetism
  • Give an overview of the structure of the Earth and of the experimental and observational techniques used to probe them
  • Describe the structure and composition of the earth's atmosphere and how it developed
  • Describe the dynamic processes in the atmosphere from precipitation to global air circulation
  • Explain the effect of human activity on the Earth and its Atmosphere
Indicative reading list

Lowrie, W. and Fichtner, A., 2020. Fundamentals of geophysics. Cambridge University Press.
Fowler, C.M.R., 1990. The solid earth: an introduction to global geophysics. Cambridge University Press.
McIlveen, J.F.R., 1992. Fundamentals of Weather and Climate. Chapman & Hall.

View reading list on Talis Aspire


Physics has provided techniques and principles which are valuable to other sciences including geology and meteorology. This module shows how electromagnetism, gravity, mechanics and thermodynamics account for the structure of the solid Earth and drive most of what we call the weather.

Subject specific skills

Knowledge of mathematics and physics. Skills in modelling, reasoning, thinking

Transferable skills

Analytical, communication, problem-solving, self-study

Study time

Type Required
Lectures 30 sessions of 1 hour (20%)
Private study 118 hours (79%)
Assessment 2 hours (1%)
Total 150 hours
Private study description

Working through lecture notes, solving problems, wider reading, discussing with others taking the module, revising for exam, practising on past exam papers


No further costs have been identified for this module.

You must pass all assessment components to pass the module.

Assessment group B
Weighting Study time
On-campus Examination 100% 2 hours

Answer 4 questions

  • Answerbook Pink (12 page)
  • Students may use a calculator
Feedback on assessment

Personal tutor, group feedback

Past exam papers for PX399


This module is Option list A for:

  • Year 3 of UPXA-F300 Undergraduate Physics (BSc)

This module is Option list B for:

  • Year 3 of UPXA-GF13 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (BSc)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-FG31 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
  • Year 3 of UPXA-F303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)