Climate Change and Biogeochemical Cycles

Course content

The focus of the course is on the effects of climate change on biogeochemical cycles, and on the feedbacks from biogeochemical cycles to climate. These overarching themes are adrressed in the course elements across different compartments in the Earth System, and across scales. Special attention is paid to the unmanaged terrestrial environment for two reasons: It covers the majority of the land area of the globe, and very direct interactions occur between plants, soil, and the atmosphere when compared to the aquatic environment. Terrestrial carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling and the interactions between the cycles are covered. Lessons are given in radiation and energy balance, photosynthesis and respiration at leaf, plant, canopy, landscape, and biome level. Greenhouse gas (including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) emissions and the biogeochemical processes behind the emissions, are discussed, including the impacts of these processes at the ecosystem scale and regional/global scale. Biogenic volatile organic compound emissions, the interactions with the atmosphere and feedbacks on the climate system are covered. Anthropogenic impacts on global element cycling are addressed. Biogeochemical cycling in the global ocean is particularly important for maintaining the state of the Earth System. The most important of these cycles (C, N, P, O, Si) are presented and the potential climate effects of their anthropogenic perturbation examined.

The themes of the course are:

  • Studying interactions between biogeochemical cycles and climate: experiments, monitoring and modelling
  • Carbon cycling in unmanaged terrestrial ecosystems, primary production
  • Decomposition and methane emission
  • Terrestrial nitrogen and phosphorus cycles
  • Ecosystem-atmosphere interactions and feedbacks on climate
  • Biogeochemical cycling in oceans
  • Terrestrial and marine biogeochemical cycles and their interactions with other components of the Earth System

MSc Programme in Biology
MSc Programme in Biology with a minor subject
MSc Programme in Climate Change
MSc Programme in Environmental Science

Learning outcome


  • Describe the biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial and aquatic environment
  • Understand biogeochemical and ecophysiological processes controlling ecosystem productivity and ecosystem dynamics at monthly-decadal timescales
  • Explain the exchange of gases in terrestrial ecosystems at leaf and canopy level, and effects of climate change on the processes


  • Evaluate the effects of climate change on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems
  • Identify possible feedback mechanisms between the biogeochemical cycles and the climate
  • Discuss anthropogenic impacts on biogeochemical processes in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems


  • Critically examine scientific and popular articles as well as to mediate them orally and in writing
  • Reflect over and analyze the impacts of climate change on the complex interactions between the plants, soil and the atmosphere
  • Evaluate and debate about different mitigation options
  • Compare and contrast biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial ecosystems and oceans

The form of teaching is class room teaching with active participation of students by means of mandatory group projects, discussions and modelling exercises. Excursions to institutes conducting research on climate change and biogeochemical cycles include talks by experts on specific topics as well as demonstrations on experimental work and methods.

See Absalon

Academic qualifications equivalent to a BSc degree is recommended.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, 4 hours under invigilation
Type of assessment details
The course has been selected for ITX exam
See important information about ITX-exams at Study Information, menu point: Exams -> Exam types and rules -> Written on-site exams (ITX)
Exam registration requirements

Participation in at least 80% of the group work and handing in two group assignments.

All aids allowed

As the exam is an ITX-exam, the University will make computers available to students at the exam. Students are therefore not permitted to bring their own computers, tablets, calculators, or mobile phones.

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

The same as the ordinary exam.

If ten or fewer students have signed up for re-exam, the type of assessment will be changed to oral exam.

If the exam registration requirements are not fulfilled the student must hand in two individual assignments no later than three weeks before the reexam.

Criteria for exam assessment

In order to obtain the grade 12 the student should convincingly and accurately demonstrate the knowledge, skills and competences described under Learning Outcome.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 23
  • Preparation
  • 139
  • Excursions
  • 15
  • Project work
  • 25
  • Exam
  • 4
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 block

Block 2
The number of seats may be reduced in the late registration period
Study Board of Geosciences and Management
Contracting department
  • Department of Biology
  • Department of Geoscience and Natural Resource Management
  • The Natural History Museum of Denmark
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Science
Course Coordinator
  • Riikka Rinnan   (7-746b6b6d6d637442646b71306d7730666d)

Riikka Rinnan, Katherine Richardson, Guy Schurgers, Kathrin Rousk and Per Ambus.

Saved on the 11-05-2023

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