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Masters Degrees (Plate Tectonics)

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Sustaining a growing population on our dynamic planet requires deep understanding of geological and geophysical processes within the Earth, and of how they interact with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biota. Read more
Sustaining a growing population on our dynamic planet requires deep understanding of geological and geophysical processes within the Earth, and of how they interact with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biota. The Master's Programme in Geology and Geophysics trains you to address pressing questions concerning our home planet's evolution, its role as the source of raw materials needed by modern civilisation, and environmental issues. Key questions include:
-How can we decode Earth’s rock record to reveal the evolution of Earth’s crust and mantle over billions of years?
-How do we make natural resource exploration and extraction more sustainable and environmentally friendly?
-What can the Earth’s history tell us to help us forecast the impacts of climate change?
-Where can we safely construct power plants or store nuclear waste?

The programme includes four specialist options: Petrology and Economic Geology; Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology; Palaeontology and Global Change; and Solid Earth Geophysics.

Upon completion of the programme, you will have gained expertise in a number of scientific and professional skills, including, depending on your specialist option:
-Assessment of geological materials (minerals, rock types, bedrock, groundwater).
-Understanding the genesis and sustainable use of mineral commodities.
-Sustainable use of the environment from the Earth Science perspective.
-Palaeontology and modelling global change using the geological record.
-The physical evolution of the Earth (plate tectonics, interplay of the mantle and crust).
-Independent and team-driven project research.
-High-level scientific writing (M.Sc. thesis and related work).
-Presentation of scientific results to scientists, students, and the general public.

The University of Helsinki will introduce annual tuition fees to foreign-language Master’s programmes starting on August 1, 2017 or later. The fee ranges from 13 000-18 000 euros. Citizens of non-EU/EEA countries, who do not have a permanent residence status in the area, are liable to these fees. You can check this FAQ at the Studyinfo website whether or not you are required to pay tuition fees: https://studyinfo.fi/wp2/en/higher-education/higher-education-institutions-will-introduce-tuition-fees-in-autumn-2017/am-i-required-to-pay-tuition-fees/

Programme Contents

At the beginning of the advanced studies, you will familiarise yourself with the central research methods in the field. The studies consist of intensive learning in small groups on practical work courses, guided laboratory work on specialised courses, and tailored short-term courses led by international and Finnish experts. In addition, you will be able to take part are a variety of field courses and excursions (in Finland and beyond) to familiarise yourself with research topics in their natural surroundings.

Selection of the Major

As a student in the Master’s Programme in Geology and Geophysics, you are free to choose among the four specialist options offered:
In Petrology and Economic Geology you will study solid rock, mineral material and associated fluid systems, with targets ranging from the microscopic (and submicroscopic) scale to continents. The focus is on study of magmatic systems (volcanic and plutonic); the composition, lithology and structure of bedrock; evolution of continental crust and mantle; and the origin and assessment of economically important commodities in rock systems.

Hydrogeology and Environmental Geology combines understanding of earth surface systems such as 3D sedimentary environments, groundwater and low temperature geochemistry. The specialist option is based on practical training using top-notch analytical facilities and survey methods in cooperation with industry and authorities. In addition to basic research, the line aims to build your expertise for future careers.

Palaeontology and Global Change deals with the changing conditions and evolution of life on Earth. Research topics include fossil mammals and their environments during the last 25 million years, the environmental and evolutionary context of early humans in Africa, and the history of climate change and ecosystems during the last 100,000 years. The effect of humankind on the biosphere is a multidisciplinary topic.

Solid Earth Geophysics combines geology with geophysics to study the structure of the Earth’s interior and the physical processes related to its evolution. These ideas are not only crucial for understanding phenomena such as earthquake and volcanic activity related to Plate Tectonics, but also important for exploration of natural resources, environmental studies and engineering, for example.

Programme Structure

A Master’s degree in Geology and Geophysics requires 120 credits (ECTS) and is designed to be completed in two years of full-time study. The study requirements are:
-Advanced studies in your specialist option (60-70 credits).
-Joint studies in topics related to your specialist option (25-30 credits).
-Master’s thesis (30 credits).

Career Prospects

Expert geoscientists are in demand and employed in a range of fields nationally and internationally. Recent graduates have gone on to pursue:
-Employment in the mining and mineral resource exploration industry.
-Work as environmental and groundwater scientists in private companies and in the public sector.
-Doctoral studies in geoscience or geophysics both in Finland and abroad.
-Research work on the geology of Finland at the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK).
-Work as experts in the field of engineering geology and applied mineralogy.

Research Focus

There are many ongoing interdisciplinary research projects in the Faculty of Science. These projects are conducted in active cooperation with research institutes on the Kumpula Science Campus, as well as with other faculties, universities, and private industry.

The field of Geosciences is broad, and our research focus covers multiple branches of it. Some of the main interests at the moment include environmental topics related to groundwater and contaminated soils, the genesis of plutonic and volcanic igneous rocks, evolutionary palaeontology of mammals based on fossil teeth, and the structure and evolution of the continental crust. We are focusing on scientific research that makes it possible to understand geological processes and the structure of the Earth using our modern and diverse laboratory infrastructure.

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This is one of the premier international applied MSc courses with a focus on petroleum exploration and production. It is run in parallel with the Basin Evolution and Dynamics MSc in Petroleum Geocsience but with a greater emphasis on tectonics and structural geology. Read more
This is one of the premier international applied MSc courses with a focus on petroleum exploration and production. It is run in parallel with the Basin Evolution and Dynamics MSc in Petroleum Geocsience but with a greater emphasis on tectonics and structural geology. In addition to successful employment in the international petroleum industry graduates from this course are employed in the international mining industry as well as being highly sought after for further PhD research in the geosciences.

● Recognised by Industry - Industry scholarships

● We offer highly focused teaching and training by internationally recognised academic experts as well as by visiting staff from the petroleum and remote sensing industries.

The course covers the applications of tectonics and structural geology to hydrocarbon exploration and production as well as to applied structural geology research in different terranes. The course is modular in form providing intensive learning and training in tectonics, applied structural geology, seismic interpretation of structural styles, tectonostratigraphic analysis, section balancing and reconstruction, remote sensing, crustal fluids and hydrocarbon systems, reservoir geology, and applied geological fieldwork.

The MSc course provides ‘state of the art’ training in –
● Plate tectonics and terrane analysis;
● Applied structural analysis;
● 3D seismic interpretation and 3D visualization of structural styles;
● Fault analysis and fault-sealing;
● Tectonostratigraphic analysis;
● Scaled analogue modelling;
● Numerical modelling of structures;
● Remote sensing analysis of satellite and radar imagery;
● Analysis of gravity and magnetic data;
● Section balancing and reconstruction;
● Applied structural fieldwork.

● Transferable skills learned during the course include
project planning, presentation techniques, report writing and compilation, team working skills, spreadsheet and statistical analyses, GIS methods as well as graphics and visualization techniques.

● The full time MSc course runs for 50 weeks. The first half comprises one and two week course modules as well as group projects and fieldwork. The second half of the MSc course consists of an individual research project usually carried out in conjunction with the petroleum industry or related institutions such as international geological surveys.

● Part time study over 24 months is also available

● Each year independent projects are arranged with new data sets from industry – some students work in the offices of the company whereas other may use our excellent in-house facilities. All independent projects are supervised by faculty members with additional industry supervision where appropriate.

Facilities include –
● Dedicated Modern Teaching Laboratories
● Internationally Recognised Structural Modelling Laboratories
● 14 Dual Screen Unix Seismic Workstations
● PC and Macintosh Workstations
● Advanced Sedimentological Laboratories

The MSc course also greatly benefits from dynamic interaction with internationally recognised research groups within the Geology Department including –

● Project EAGLE – Evolution of the African and Arabian rift system – Professor Cindy Ebinger
● Southeast Asia Research Group – tectonic evolution and basin development in SE Asia – Professor Robert Hall
● Numerical Modelling Research Group – Numerical modelling of tectonics and sedimentation – Dr Dave Waltham
● Fault Dynamics Research Group – Dynamics of Fault Systems in Sedimentary Basins – Professor Ken McClay

Our Tectonics MSc graduates have gained employment with Shell, BP, ECL, PGS, Sipetrol, PGL, Codelco, and to PhD research in a range of universities including Trieste, Barcelona, and Ulster universities.
Since 2001, 85% of our Petroleum Geosciences MSc graduates have gone in to work in the oil industry, 10% into geological research and 5% into environmental/engineering jobs.

Accommodation is available on campus in en-suite study bedrooms grouped in flats of eight, each with a communal kitchen and dining space.

Subsistence Costs ~£9,000 pa (including Hall of Residence fees of c. £4,500 for a full year)

APPLICATIONS can be made on line at http://www.rhul.ac.uk/Registry/Admissions/applyonline.html

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This course will provide you with the opportunity to carry out an independent research project under the supervision of our leading academics. Read more
This course will provide you with the opportunity to carry out an independent research project under the supervision of our leading academics.

You will receive training in research methods and take a taught course unit in a relevant subject area. The research topic for your project is agreed with a supervisor in advance and can be in any area of the expertise in the department research groups. The project outline will be developed in consultation with your supervisor and project work is carried out in parallel with the taught courses, becoming full-time during the third term.

This Master’s by Research will provide you with a suitable background to work as a research assistant or as the grounding for further study towards a PhD.

See the website https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/earthsciences/coursefinder/mscearthsciencesbyresearch.aspx

Why choose this course?

- This course is ideal for graduates in geology and related sciences who wish to carry out independent research over a shorter time period than is possible in a doctorate (PhD) programme. It allows you study at Master's level an aspect of the geological sciences which may not be catered for by specialist MSc programmes.

- You will be involved at every step of the research project - from planning and sample collection, laboratory work, result analysis, to writing your dissertation.

- It is ideal preparation if you are interested in studying for a PhD, but would like to have further preparation and training.

- In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), the Department of Earth Science’s research was ranked equal 6th in the UK with 70% rated as world-leading or internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour.

- The Department has up-to-date computer interpretation facilities, a full range of modern geochemical laboratories including XRF, quadrupole and multicollector ICP Mass Spectrometry, atmospheric chemistry and a new excimer laser ablation facility, excellent structural modelling laboratories, palaeontology and sedimentology laboratories.

Course content and structure

The course consists of the following three components:

A Research Study Skills Course Unit
- Personal research skills (e.g. safety, time and project management, teamwork)
- IT skills (e.g. literature retrieval, web authoring, databases, modelling)
- Data analysis skills (e.g. statistical methods, GIS systems, sampling techniques)
- Communication skills (e.g. posters, oral presentation, writing papers, web pages)
- Subject-specific skills and techniques. These amount to 55% of the research skills assessment, and for example may include parts of specialist taught courses (see below), a training course on the theory and practice of chemical and isotopic analysis, or other training arranged by the project supervisor. This will include training for research in the general field of the research project, not solely what is needed to carry out the project.

A Specialist Taught Course Unit
You will choose an advanced taught course unit relevant to the subject area of your research project. The following taught units are currently offered:
- Applied Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
- Pollution Sources and Pathways
- Oceans and Atmospheres
- Risk and Environmental Management
- Geographical Information Systems
- Environmental Inorganic Analysis
- Contaminants in the Environment
- Advanced Igneous Petrogenesis
- Seismic Processing and Interpretation
- Geodynamics and Plate Tectonics
- Interpretation of Structural Settings
- Coal Geology
- Petroleum Geology and Evaluation
- Terrestrial Palaeoecology
- Palaeoclimates

Research Project
The project may be on any topic which is within the broad research themes of the Department. You will be linked to a potential supervisor at the application stage and, in consultation with the supervisor, you will develop a detailed project outline during the first half of the first term. Project work is then carried out in parallel with taught courses during terms one and two, becoming the full-time activity after Easter. A bound dissertation is submitted for examination in early September.

On completion of the course graduates will have:

- an advanced knowledge and understanding of a variety of analytical, technical, numerical, modelling and interpretive techniques applicable to the specific field of earth sciences

- the articulation of knowledge and the understanding of published work, concepts and theories in the chosen field of earth sciences at an advanced level

- the acquisition of knowledge from published work in the chosen area of earth sciences to a level appropriate for a MSc degree.


Research Study Skills: this is assessed by coursework and theory examination and will include short written assignments, a seminar, worksheets and practical tests. These assessments contribute 12.5% of the course marks.

Specialist Taught Course Units: these are mostly assessed by a written, theory examination and coursework. The unit assessment contributes 12.5% of the course marks.

Research Project: the project dissertation must be submitted in early September. It will be marked by both an internal and an external examiner, and will be defended at an oral examination with both examiners. The project assessment contributes 75% of the course marks.

Employability & career opportunities

Subject to agreement and suitable funding, MSc by Research students can transfer to the MPhil/PhD programme at Royal Holloway. They may use the research carried out for the MSc towards the PhD, and count the time spent towards MPhil/PhD registration requirements, provided that the MSc research forms a coherent part of the PhD, and that the transfer is approved prior to submission of the MSc research dissertation.

How to apply

Applications for entry to all our full-time postgraduate degrees can be made online https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/studyhere/postgraduate/applying/howtoapply.aspx .

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In the Master in Earth Structure and Dynamics programme, you will explore the composition, structure, and evolution of the Earth’s crust, mantle, and core. Read more
In the Master in Earth Structure and Dynamics programme, you will explore the composition, structure, and evolution of the Earth’s crust, mantle, and core. During this two-year programme, you will learn to link geological, geophysical, geochemical, and geodetic observations made at the Earth’s surface to physical processes operating within the planet.

The programme combines physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology, and field studies to address how the solid Earth works. It allows you to specialize in virtually any aspect of solid Earth science, ranging from theoretical geophysics to pure geology or geochemistry. Many students choose a combined geology-geophysics focus.


The main subject areas you will study consist of seismology, tectonophysics, mantle dynamics, structural geology, metamorphism, magmatic processes, basin evolution, hydrocarbon and mineral deposits, and the properties of Earth materials. You will examine processes ranging from slow geodynamic processes – such as mantle convection, plate tectonics, and mountain building – to those that can have an impact during a human lifetime. These include active crustal deformation, seismicity, and volcanism as well as subsidence, uplift, and seismicity induced by hydrocarbon production and geological storage of CO2.


You can choose one of three specialization tracks based on your interests in the field:

Earth Materials: Deformation and metamorphic and igneous processes operating in the crust and upper mantle.
Physics of the Deep Earth and Planets: An in-depth geophysical approach to understand the deep interior of the Earth and other planets.
Basins, Orogens, and the Crust-Lithosphere System: Combine courses from other tracks to create a hybrid Geology-Geophysics track

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