• Offered by Research School of Earth Sciences
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Classification Advanced
  • Course subject Earth and Marine Science
  • Areas of interest Earth and Marine Sciences, Geography, Earth Physics, Geology
  • Academic career PGRD
  • Course convener
    • Dr Rhodri Davies
  • Mode of delivery In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in Second Semester 2024
    See Future Offerings

Mantle convection is the fundamental agent driving many of the geological features observed at Earth's surface, including plate tectonics and volcanism. However, many geologists have an incomplete understanding of the process, whilst there are many misconceptions about how it relates to surface processes. A broad background to the physics and fluid dynamics of mantle convection will be provided in this course, by explaining what it is, how it works, and how to quantify it in simple terms. It assumes no specialist background: mechanisms will be explained simply and the required basic physics will be fully reviewed and explained. The distinctive forms that convection takes within Earth's mantle will be described within the context of tectonic plates and mantle plumes, whilst the implications for geochemistry and Earth's tectonic evolution will be explored. Common misconceptions and controversies will be addressed, providing a straightforward, but rigorous, explanation of this key process. Emerging insights into the fundamental links between climate, surface processes (weathering, erosion and sediment transport), plate tectonics and underlying mantle flow will also be covered, thus providing a complete overview of Earth’s dynamic engine.

Note: This course is co-taught with undergraduate students but assessed separately.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Understand the principles of convection and demonstrate how these principles apply in the Earth’s mantle.
  2. Solve a range of geodynamic problems, including an understanding of uncertainties involved.
  3. Quantify the force-balance driving plate tectonics and the implications for the structure of Earth's interior, as imaged by seismology and illuminated via geodesy.
  4. Make robust inferences about mantle convection drawn from observations, thus connecting mantle convection to surface processes, geology and geochemistry.
  5. Formulate ideas for their own future research, while critically reading and analysing scientific literature.
  6. Demonstrate effective written and oral presentation skills to a variety of audiences.

Indicative Assessment

  1. In class assessment during practicals (35) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]
  2. Oral presentations (15) [LO 6]
  3. Written lay descriptions (15) [LO 6]
  4. Final examination (35) [LO 1,2,3,4,5,6]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


The expected workload will consist of approximately 130 hours throughout the semester including:

  • Lecture material comprises online videos, grouped by topic. Approximately 3 hours per week should be set aside to go through this material, in advance of practical sessions.
  • Face-to face component which will consist of weekly 2-hour practical sessions and a 1-hour interactive question and answer session.
  • Approximately 58 hours of self directed study which will include preparation for lectures, practicals and other assessment tasks.

Inherent Requirements

To be determined

Requisite and Incompatibility

Incompatible with EMSC3034

Prescribed Texts

"Dynamic Earth: Plates, Plumes and Mantle Convection": Geoff Davies, Cambridge University Press.

"Mantle Convection for Geologists": Geoff Davies, Cambridge University Press.

Preliminary Reading

"Dynamic Earth: Plates, Plumes and Mantle Convection": Geoff Davies, Cambridge University Press.

"Mantle Convection for Geologists": Geoff Davies, Cambridge University Press.

"Solid Earth: an Introduction to Global Geophysics": Mary Fowler, Cambridge University Press.

Assumed Knowledge

Structure and composition of the Earth; Plate boundaries; Plate kinematics; Isostasy; Gravity; Seismology.


Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

Second Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
7926 22 Jul 2024 29 Jul 2024 31 Aug 2024 25 Oct 2024 In Person N/A

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions