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Organic Geochemistry

The course can be described by two keywords: Molecular fossils and The Carbon Cycle. You will gain knowledge about the composition, production, preservation and degradation of natural organic matter, but also organic contaminants.


The course also covers the long (geological) and short-term Carbon cycle and its linkage to greenhouse gases and climate research. A focus lies on the analysis and use of organic 'molecular fossils' - which can be traced back to the origin of life, but are also commonly used in paleoclimate research. Teaching involves studying written material, recorded lectures and exercises.

This course is given on-site & by distance
The course is offered via the learning platform 'Athena'.

Course period Autumn 2021: Monday August 30–Wednesday September 29 (incorrect study period in the right column).

Autumn term 21 | Depending on the number of students and current restrictions, the course will either be given "as usual" or with lectures via Zoom and exercises on as many occasions as needed to be able to work in smaller groups.
The information will be updated before the start of the course depending on the situation at that time.

  • Course structure

    General Learning Goals

    1. Know the chemical composition of organic matter in the bio- and geosphere.
    2. Explain the main processes that affect organic matter and the carbon cycle on shorter and longer, geological timescales.
    3. Know the concept of the use of organic molecular fossils as a tool in environmental, geological and climate sciences, and give several examples.
    4. Explain the basics behind the behavior and fate of organic contaminants in the environment.
    5. Basic organic matter analysis.
    6. Explain the isotopic composition of organic matter and molecules on a basic level.

    Course content
    The course is divided into several topics:

    1. Composition of Organic Matter
    2. Isotopes in Organic Geochemistry
    3. Carbon Cycle
    4. Lipid Biomarkers as Molecular Fossils
      –Geological research (molecular paleontology)
      –Paleoclimate/environmental research
      –Other fields
    5. Fossil fuels
    6. Organic contaminants
    7. Organic Geochemical Analysis
    8. Future Carbon.

    Exercises and feedback
    Each topic has associated questions and/or exercises which you need to do. You also need to hand in a summary about each topic. You will get feedback about the summaries, before you can incorporate the summaries into a binder of summaries of the course.

    Organization and deadlines
    The course is run as a distance course which allows individual pacing of course. However there are deadlines for finishing the course:
    ST20 – The end of August
    HT20 'on site' –  within a week after the end of the course
    HT20 by distance – at the end of the semester.

    Teaching format

    Course structure – lectures overview


    1a. Composition of organic matter
    1b. Biosynthesis
    1c. Production & preservation of organic matter – aquatic
    1d. Production & preservation of organic matter – terrestrial
    = Hand in a summary =

    2a. Stable isotopes – introduction
    2b. Stable isotopes theory I
    2c. Stable isotopes theory II
    2d. Stable isotopes applications
    2e. Radiocarbon introduction
    = Hand in a summary =

    3a. The Global Carbon cycle – modern
    3b. Wetland as C cycling hotspots
    3c. The global Carbon cycle – geological
    3e. Carbon cycle and isotopes
    = Hand in a summary =

    4a. Molecular fossils – introduction
    4c. Molecular fossils – past environments and biogeochemical processes
    4c. Molecular fossils – paleoclimate
    4b. Molecular fossils – soils and terrestrial macromolecules
    4d. Molecular fossils – back through time
    = Hand in a summary =

    5a. Oil, coal and gas – generation, molecular structure, provenance
    5b. Organic contaminants
    5c. Organic geochemistry in other fields (archaeology, forensics)
    = Hand in a summary =

    6a. Sampling, lipid extraction and chromatography – mass spectrometry
    6b. Other analytical tools in organic geochemistry
    = Hand in a summary

    7a. Carbon capture and replacement of fossil fuels

    = Hand in final Report =


    To pass the course, you need to:
    a) have handed in the topic summaries. You should incorporate feedback in these summaries, and generate:
    b) a final report, being a 'binder' of the topic summaries. For each topic you will get a grade; the final grade for the course is the mean grade of these.

    A | Student shows a deep and comprehensive insight into the topic by giving a critical review, also discussing the topic in a wider context. The writing is concise and to the point without any significant errors.
    B | Student shows good understanding of the topic, as shown by a complete review that is to the point and that only contains minor errors.
    C | Student shows reasonable understanding of the topic, as shown by a mostly complete review that is written in an understandable manner and that contains only minor errors and omissions.
    D | Student shows insight in the topic, albeit not complete. Writing is understandable but with some errors and omissions.
    E | Student shows scattered insight into the topic. Writing is understandable but some serious errors and omissions occur.
    F | Student does not show understanding of the topic; writing is not comprehensive, focuses on irrelevant points and omits critical parts.

    The assessment criteria will be outlined at the start of the course. To pass the course, a minimum grade E is necessary.

  • Course literature

    Note that the course literature can be changed up to two months before the start of the course.

    S Killops & V Killops, 2013
    Introduction to Organic Geochemistry
    Blackwell Publishing Ltd. , 2nd edition

    Only available as e-book (free through SU Library)

  • Course reports

    Course evaluations allow the possibility to affect and take responsibility for your own learning and gives important information for our work with pedagogical development.

    It's important that all students complete the course evaluations after each course, it gives the Department the opportunity to improve the courses' quality.

    The course evaluation is composed of a number of questions and specific questions for each course. If you, as a student, want to contribute with more course specific questions you may send them to

    If you haven't received the course evaluation for your finished course, or if you have other questions regarding course evaluations at IGV please contact

    Course evaluation = student's review of the course
    Course report = course leader's reflections about the review

  • Contact

    Rienk SmittenbergSenior lecturer, Isotope organic geochemistry
    Rienk Smittenberg
    +46 (0)8 16 47 60 | Room: R305