58358 - Earth Physics

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, the student has acquired the basic knowledge about the structure and the dynamics of the Earth, the gravity field and the magnetic field of the Earth.

Course contents

Part 1: Structure and dynamics of the Earth

An outline of the formation of the Earth. Structure and composition of the Earth. Thermodynamics of the Earth. Physical properties and dynamics of the Core. Physical properties and dynamics of the Mantle. Volcanic activity. Seismic activity.

Part 2: The Earth’s gravity field

The moments of a mass distribution. The Newtonian theory. The roto-gravitational potential of the Earth. Gravity anomalies. The gravity field in the Earth’s interior. Orbits and orbital mechanics. The tides. An outline of Einstein’s theory.

Part 3: The Earth’s magnetic field

Phenomenology of the geomagnetic field. The ionosphere and the magnetosphere. Physical theories. Foundations of magnetohydrodynamics. The geodynamo. Foundations of plasma physics. Electromagnetic waves in the ionosphere. Magnetic properties of rocks.


Each lesson is accompanied by the projection of a file PowerPoint. The collection of files, divided into chapters, contains an exhaustive treatment of the program and can be used as a textbook for the study of the subject. The files are available since the beginning of the course and can be reached from the web page of the course.

If they wish to go deeper into the topics of the course, students may consult the following textbooks:

- G. C. Brown and A. E. Mussett, The Inaccessible Earth, 2nd edition, Chapman & Hall, London, 1993.

- F. D. Stacey, Physics of the Earth, 3rd edition, Brookfield Press, Brisbane, Australia, 1992.

- D. L. Turcotte and G. Schubert, Geodynamics, 3rd edition, Cambridge University Press, 2014.

- L. D. Landau and E. M. Lifshitz, The Classical Theory of Fields, 3rd edition, Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1971.

- W. A. Campbell, Introduction to Geomagnetic Fields, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2003.

- P. A. Davidson, An Introduction to Magnetohydrodynamics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2001.

The textbooks are available in the Library of the Department of Physics and Astronomy (Sector of Geophysics, viale Carlo Berti Pichat 8). 

Teaching methods

Classroom lectures with projection of files PowerPoint. It is assumed that the student has a good preliminary knowledge of the basic concepts of Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, fluid mechanics and theory of elasticity. 

Assessment methods

The exam will be oral and will generally last about 30 minutes.

The student will be asked in sequence to illustrate a few topics, among those considered in the course. For each topic, the student will be first asked to expose the general framework, then to go into details on some specific aspects.

The student will be requested to know the main equations of the physical theories employed and to know how they are worked out; to be able to apply them to specific cases; to know the orders of magnitude of the employed physical quantities. 

Teaching tools

Computer and projector.

Office hours

See the website of Michele Dragoni