NIGK21008U Geodynamics - Shaping Earth’s Surface

Volume 2021/2022

MSc Programme in Geology-Geoscience


The course starts with a review of the evidence of horizontal and vertical motions of Earth’s lithosphere, and continues with a look at the constitutive equations of Earth’s mantle viscous convection, and how one can draw important first-order features of the lithosphere from simple handling of these equations. The course continues with a focus on observations (e.g., gravity anomalies, paleo-altimetry data, etc.) that allow us to infer the shape of Earth’s surface and its possible past development.


The course also features a quantitative, real data-driven project on how isostasy and elasticity of the Earth’s lithosphere determine the support of large topographic features over geological time. Such a project allows students to familiarize themselves with real data set as well as with computational tools (e.g., Matlab, Python) often utilized in the industry.


In addition to geology students, this course will be certainly of interest to students and NBI, since the description of the processes shaping Earth’s surface is done in the context of the laws of physics and thermodynamics. Students in geography may also have an interest in the long-term shape of Earth’s surface, as it provides a context for more specific studies in, among others, geomorphology and sea-level evolution.

Learning Outcome


  • Kinematics and dynamics of Earth’s mantle and lithosphere.
  • Plate motions.
  • Gravity anomalies.



  • Handle quantitative problems related to mantle/lithosphere dynamics and kinematics.
  • Handle large geophysical data sets using computational tools. The overarching goal is to enable students to extract inferences of geological value from the analyses of geophysical data sets by using theory, mathematical/statistical approaches, and computational tools.



This course aims at enabling students to understand and study:

  • how mantle/lithosphere dynamics at the global scale shape the Earth’s surface over geological time-scales through horizontal (i.e., plate motions) and vertical (i.e., glacial rebound, dynamic topography) movements; and
  • the context in which many of the geological processes already seen, or to be seen, in other courses (e.g., basin formation and evolution, geochemistry of the crust, evolution of ocean circulation over geological time-scales, glacial rebound and coastal evolution etc.) occur.

Please see Absalon course page.

BSc in Geology-Geoscience or equivalent is recommended. In order to participate, students are expected to be particularly familiar with the geophysical notions covered in Introduction to Quantitative problem-solving in Geosceinces and Andvendt geofysik i geovidenskab (BSc curriculum), as well as Integrating fundamental concepts in geosciences (MSc curriculum).
Class lectures, class exercises, homework assignments, data-driven individual project.
This course contains elements that fall into the categories of Digitalisation, Quantitative methods, Statistics.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 171
  • Exercises
  • 35
  • Total
  • 206
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Continuous feedback is provided to students during the course - this is based primarily on the exercise sessions, and is done in the form of a collective feedback to the group of students during class time, as well as individual feedback during meetings for questions.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, During course
Oral examination, 20 minutes
The written assignment is prepared during the course and must be handed in prior to the exam week. The oral exam uses the written assignment as its point of departure. It includes the titles listed in the officially approved reading list. A combined grade is given after the oral exam.
Without aids

All aids allowed when working on the written assignment.

No aids allowed at the oral examination. The students can bring a copy of handed in report.

Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Several internal examiners

Re-submission of written assignment, 20 minutes oral examination. The written assignment must be handed in prior to the re-examination week. The oral exam uses the written assignment as its point of departure. It includes the titles listed in the officially approved reading list.

Criteria for exam assesment

See Learing Outcome.