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Module GL3333: Stable Isotopes & Groundwater Quality

Module GL3333
Co-ordinator: Dr Catherine Coxon
Course Type: Mandatory
Assessment: In-course assessment (50%); theory examination (50%)
ECTS: 5 credits
Prerequisites: Environmental Science students only

Contact hours & timing:

Michaelmas and Hilary Terms
  Weeks 6-10, 21-26, four hours per week

Module Learning Aims:

(1) To acquire an outline knowledge of how stable isotopes behave in nature and how they can be studied, (2) to acquire an outline knowledge of aquifer hydrochemistry and contaminant processes with relevance to groundwater

Module Content:

The first part of this module aims to provide a broad introduction to stable isotopes and the use of nitrogen, carbon and oxygen isotopes in studies related to the interaction of the biosphere, the oceans and the atmosphere. The
theory and technology behind isotope ratio mass spectrometry is presented and a series of applications of the technique will be covered.

Students will prepare samples for an experiment, which will test the hypothesis you are what you eat. A second experiment will show how trophic enrichment of nitrogen and carbon isotopes can aid our understanding of metabolism and diets of badgers. The final experiment will use oxygen isotopes to aid our understanding of how water travels through a peat bog. The experiments are related to current research in the School of Natural Sciences.

The data obtained for each experiment will be interpreted and the sources of error, precision and value of the data assessed.

The second part of the module aims to provide an understanding of factors affecting groundwater quality, and of how groundwater resources can be managed to maintain and improve water quality. It provides a training in the basic research tools used in groundwater contamination work, and introduces students to the application of these tools, with Irish and international case examples. Specific topics covered include an introduction to hydrogeology and groundwater – surface water interaction, groundwater chemistry and natural groundwater quality problems, groundwater quality issues in rural and industrial settings, groundwater quality monitoring, groundwater vulnerability and protection.

Learning outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
• outline the fundamental behaviour of stable isotopes in various systems and state how they can be used to answer scientific questions
• outline the basic methods of sample preparation and instrumentation used in stable isotope research
• outline aquifer hydrochemistry and contaminant transport processes
• assess groundwater quality problems in both rural and industrial settings
• evaluate groundwater vulnerability to pollution, identify and use groundwater protection schemes and appreciate their data requirements

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