University of Technology Sydney

91107 The Biosphere

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2023 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Science: Life Sciences
Credit points: 6 cp
Result type: Grade and marks

There are course requisites for this subject. See access conditions.


Biosphere is a collective term which encapsulates all living organisms on Earth. Of the thousands of planets discovered so far, Earth is truly unique in that it is the only planet which has a biosphere. This subject has been designed to introduce students to the environmental sciences at a tertiary level. It explores the evolution of Earth's structure and species, and contrasts these ancient patterns with modern environmental changes that are occurring right now. The interactions among the various living and non-living components within the biosphere, and with external factors such as the atmosphere and solar energy, are also examined. Throughout the subject, there is an integrated focus on the science of the biosphere and the effects that humans and our activities have on the biosphere, including vitally important issues such as climate change, sustainability and the resources crisis.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

Upon successful completion of this subject students should be able to:

1. Understand the concept of the biosphere and the current relationship between the physical and biological environments
2. Describe the parallel history of geological and biological evolution of planet Earth
3. Recognise the diverse range of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, their function, ecological value and ecosystem services
4. Identify some of the effects of human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function, the complex ecological responses to these and the means of assessing and mitigating such responses
5. Critically evaluate contentious environmental issues (both global and in the Australian context) from a number of viewpoints that might reflect the wide range of views in the community
6. Reflect on the wide-ranging role of field work in assessing and addressing complex environmental problems
7. Participate effectively in working in a group and contributing ideas to group discussion
8. Demonstrate effective note-taking of scientific observations in a research logbook
9. Recognise how environmental scientists can contribute to the management, regulation and protection of the environment as well as in education and research
10. Identify some of the professional requirements required for a career in environmental science

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes specifically to the development of following course intended learning outcomes:

  • Demonstrate theoretical and technical knowledge of the principles of biodiversity and ecosystem function and evaluate and integrate principles of sustainability and conservation to protect biodiversity. (1.1)
  • Critically evaluate scientific evidence and literature and apply effective and appropriate experimental design and analytical techniques to discover and hypothesise solutions to new and emerging environmental issues. (2.1)
  • Demonstrate professionalism, including personal organisation, autonomy, teamwork, literacy and quantitative skills, while ensuring due consideration to ethical guidelines, work health and safety and environmental impact requirements. (3.1)
  • Evaluate evolving concepts in environmental science and apply scientific skills to design creative solutions to contemporary or complex environmental issues by incorporating innovative methods, reflective practices, and self-directed learning. (4.1)
  • Communicate effectively and professionally (oral, written, visual), generating defensible, convincing arguments for relaying research findings or articulating complex issues, concepts or skill around environmental science, within a multi-disciplinary setting. (5.1)

Contribution to the development of graduate attributes

This subject contributes to your personal, professional and intellectual development, and the development of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge

An understanding of the components of physical environment and ecosystem function, their interactions and the outcomes of human impacts on the biosphere. Disciplinary knowledge will be assessed through the final exam.

2. Research, inquiry and critical thinking

An understanding of the scientific method of knowledge acquisition and, in particular, in an environmental science context, the development of a critical approach to a range of information resources available addressing complex problems and experimental data. Critical thinking will be assessed during discussion groups, reflective reports and the final exam.

3. Professional ethical and social responsibility

Through being involved in group work, field work, and data collection and reporting, you will develop an approach that includes management of the work-load required for science-based practice, professional work and team interactions. Your performance as professionals constitutes part of the assessment for the Citizen Science Report and the Research Logbook.

An awareness and appreciation of the role of environmental science and appreciation of its importance through the contribution from a range of professionals from different disciplines to resolve and solve environmental problems facing human societies now and in the future and protection of the environment for future generations. Several discussion workshops are explicitly designed to address and assess these attributes. Other activities specifically target understanding how scientific information is understood by the general public, and how this information may best be communicated to them.

4. Reflection, Innovation and Creativity

The Citizen Science exercise provides the opportunity for ongoing learning beyond the university classroom. Continued intellectual development will be fostered in the workshop discussions, as you will need to perform both pre-work in the Online Learning Modules and also post-work activities including reflective assessment.

5. Communication

An appreciation of the need for excellent communication skills in science, through oral presentation skills gained during workshop activities and written skills in reporting of experimental and field work. The written work has a high proportion of it marks dedicated to several specific aspects of professional written communication. The written section of the final exam explicitly assesses your ability to communicate their answers in written form.

Teaching and learning strategies

You will learn in this subject via online lectures, peer discussion workshops, self-paced online learning modules and the off-campus field trip.

Lectures - There are two hours of online lectures each week. The lecture series is closely linked to the Online Learning Modules and the Discussion Workshops. Attending lectures is crucial to a full understanding of the subject content (students who do not attend lectures often do not pass university subjects).

Collaborative Discussion Workshops - These are an essential part of this subject. In addition to building your understanding of concepts, the Collaborative Discussion Workshops develop important critical thinking skills and communication skills that are desired by employers. Workshops are also specifically designed to prepare you for the hands-on research activities undertaken during the Off-campus Field Trip. Thus you are expected to attend all five Collaborative Discussion Workshops. Workshops are run throughout the semester (the weekly subject plan indicates which weeks they are running) and each runs for two hours.

Online Learning Modules - These run throughout the semester. These Modules are designed to complement lectures and workshops, to help you further consolidate concepts as well as introduce you to new and important concepts. These Modules are made available on Canvas and are to be completed in your own time during the week they are open. The subject program details running information, as does the announcements page on Canvas. Each Module should take you approximately one hour to complete and feedback is automatically generated at the end of a module.

Field Trip - The Off-campus Field Trip is an essential learning component for the subject and attendance is mandatory. The Field Trip runs during the mid-semester break week. Details of the Field Trip are provided before the session commences, and discussed in detail during the session.

Content (topics)

You will learn about the components of a planet, including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. In focusing on the biosphere as a unique entity, we explore the evolution and structure of the Earth’s biosphere as well as the organisms that reside within. We spend time learning about the science of climate change and try to understand the issue from multiple perspectives. We learn about ecosystems as catchment regions. We also examine the flows of both energy and water through the environment.

Lastly we consider humans as an integral part of the biosphere and focus on some key issues facing us right now for example, declines in flying insect populations and sustainability practices that help us both to recycle and to also minimise our consumption of the Earth’s resources. You will understand how you are an integral part of the changes occurring right now in the Earth’s biosphere and learn why it’s important to be mindful of our own patterns of reliance on the Earth’s finite resources.


Assessment task 1: Citizen Science - Community-sourced Data Report


This assessment task contributes to the develoment of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge
3. Professional, Ethical and Social Responsibility
4. Reflection, Innovation, Creativity


This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

10, 4 and 5

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.1, 3.1 and 4.1

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 30%

Detailed assessment criteria for the Citizen Science Report will be available on Canvas. Students will be assessed on:

  • Scientific referencing, both in text and the reference list
  • Ability to write clearly and logically
  • Reasonable use of grammar and sentence structure
  • Evidence of critical thinking and reflection

Assessment task 2: Research Logbook


This assessment task contributes to the develoment of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge
2.Research, Inquiry and Critical Thinking
3. Professional, Ethical and Social Responsibility
4. Reflection, Innovation, Creativity
5. Communication


This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

10, 6, 7, 8 and 9

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.1, 2.1, 3.1, 4.1 and 5.1

Type: Laboratory/practical
Groupwork: Group, individually assessed
Weight: 35%

Guidelines for the field journal will be discussed in the workshops as well as made available in the subject manual and on Canvas.

Assessment task 3: Take home exam


This assessment task contributes to the develoment of the following graduate attributes:

1. Disciplinary knowledge
2. Research, Inquiry and Critical Thinking
4. Reflection, Innovation, Creativity
5. Communication


This assessment task addresses subject learning objective(s):

1, 2, 3, 4 and 6

This assessment task contributes to the development of course intended learning outcome(s):

1.1, 2.1, 4.1 and 5.1

Type: Examination
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 35%

The final exam will provide evaluation of your: Grasp of key concepts covered across all modes of the subject delivery - including lectures, discussion workshops, the online learning modules and the field trip Ability to effectively communicate ideas through clear and logical writing Ability to provide reflective evaluation on important environmental concepts

Minimum requirements

You are expected to attend all lectures during the session. Attendance at lectures provides the opportunity to discuss and unpack complex ideas under the guidance of your Lecturer. These lectures are specifically designed to be interactive.

This subject has a compulsory off-campus field trip. This trip forms the core, hands-on professional experience for the subject and cannot be missed. The field trip runs during Mid-session STUVAC.

You must attend each of the discussion workshop classes during the session. There is no opportunity to catch up if a workshop is missed and the pre-trip workshops are crucial for your field trip preparation. Attendance will be taken by Teaching Associates.

If you have not specifically attended the pre-trip workshops and have not contacted the Subject Coordinator about your circumstances, you will not be allowed to go on the field trip. These preparation workshops are essential in ensuring your understanding of safe practice in the field and also your compliancy with university guidelines on field trips. You must also submit your medical documentation prior to going on the field trip, otherwise you will not be able to attend. These documents will be made available on Canvas.

Required texts

There are no essential textbooks for this subject

Recommended texts

Recommended sources of information will be provided via the Subject Resources page on Canvas


Additional references for specific topics will be provided during the lectures