Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session


12.748 Introduction to Isotope Chemistry or permission of the instructor.

Course Description

The objective of this course is to develop a conceptual, quantitative, and thorough understanding of principles of marine isotope geochemistry, its systematics and its application to the study of the behavior and history of the oceans within the earth system. The emphasis is on developing the underlying concepts and theory as well as proficiency in working with practical isotope systems. This will not be a comprehensive survey of isotope geochemistry literature but rather the building of foundational knowledge and skills in working with isotope systems. Reference will be made to recent theories, developments, and key papers.

The course is divided into four sections:

  1. Nuclear systematics
  2. Earth formation and evolution
  3. Stable isotopes
  4. Applications to the ocean system

We will start our journey with the basics of nuclear systematics that control the cosmic abundances of the elements and isotopes, nucleosynthesis, and nuclear stability. We will go into quantitative details about the mechanics and systematics of radioactive decay and how they apply to radioactive dating. Next, we will show how isotope distributions can constrain the nature and timing of formation of the solar system, the earth, and its atmosphere and oceans. We discuss what isotopes reveal about the structure and evolution of the earth. Stable isotopes, their measurement, fractionation, and systematics will be investigated, including recent developments in and applications of mass-independent fraction and clumped isotope systems. In the final section of the course we investigate applications of isotope systems to numerous processes in the ocean, including particle scavenging, sedimentary processes, long term elemental balances, redox processes, and air-sea exchange.


In addition to 21 lectures, there will be 4 problem-solving sessions aimed at hands-on development of key skills. Each session begins a problem set assignment due ~10 days after. A final exam will be given.

Assignments 40%
Final exam 40%
Class participation 20%