cod. 1009429

Academic year 2023/24
2° year of course - Second semester
Academic discipline
Georisorse minerarie e applicazioni mineralogico-petrografiche per l'ambiente e i beni culturali (GEO/09)
A scelta dello studente
Type of training activity
Student's choice
48 hours
of face-to-face activities
6 credits
course unit

Learning objectives

The main objective of the course is to enable the student to use geochemistry and the isotope tool for solving problems related to the management of water resources, critically evaluating the methodologies to be used for environmental monitoring and for the traceability of products and foods.
The specific objectives of the course are:
i) provide basic geochemical knowledge relating to water, soils and plants from an elementary and isotopic point of view;
ii) illustrate key chemical technologies for studying soil formation and interactions between natural environments and food production activities;
iii) To transmit skills in the processing of chemical data in order to understand the interactions between the atmosphere-soil-plants systems and their relations with climate change, in the perspective of sustainable agriculture and the fight against the ongoing climate crisis;
iv) Describe the main techniques for detecting the elementary and isotopic signature with which to investigate the origin of foods and their authenticity;
v) Analyzing carbon and nitrogen cycles: C3, C4 and CAM plants, carbon storage of soil texture, effects of seasonal changes and soil microbial communities on assimilation and cycles of carbon and nitrogen.
vi) Analyzing biogeochemical cycles and relationships with the geo - lithological environment, carbon exchanges between soil and atmosphere and the isotopic balancing of organic matter pools to quantify the alterations due to changes in climate, land use and of other anthropogenic impacts.


Skills in general chemistry and physics are recommended.

Course unit content

The course allows introduces the student to the knowledge of food authentication and traceability, through the approach to geochemical and isotopic methodologies applied to the study of natural processes and based on soil-dependent indicators, which allow defining a typical geochemical signature for each food product able to guarantee food safety, enhancement of typical products and defense against food fraud.
In particular, the course will focus on the variability of the isotopic composition of H, C, N, O and S, and on the associated analytical methodologies and their applications to the study of hydrogeological processes, as well as to environmental and ecological processes, and also to the traceability of food. and products. The issues related to the different components of the Earth system will be taken into consideration.

The student will be able to understand and apply geochemical methodologies based on soil-dependent indicators for the purposes of food authentication and traceability. The student will deal with the principles and methods of sampling, data validation and geostatic analysis of data in order to obtain the return of thematic maps and define conceptual geochemical models of traceability. You will acquire the principles of isotope geochemistry related to environmental isotopes (13C, 2H, 15N, 18O, 34S and 36Cl) which are used as tracers of natural cycles and in food traceability certificates.
Attendance and active participation in the course, as well as individual study, will allow the student to:
i) acquire basic skills on the applications of the geochemical and isotopic approach to the environment;
ii) apply geochemistry and isotopic geochemistry to solve problems related to: a) the management of surface and groundwater resources; b) food traceability; c) the relationship between the environment and climate change;
iii) apply the analytical techniques used in the geochemistry of stable isotopes.
These skills will facilitate the student's development of:
i) a critical approach to sustainable management of the environment and water resources;
ii) an ability to apply the stable isotope tool to environmental, hydrogeological, ecological and traceability problems;
iii) professionalizing soft skills, such as the use of specific technical terminology.

Full programme

The course includes 24 lessons, each lasting 2 hours, for a total of 48 hours, within which the following topics will be addressed.
- Basic concepts of isotope geochemistry and isotope fractionation processes.
- Notations used to report the stable isotope composition.
- Basic principles of mass spectrometry, microanalytical techniques, standards and general notes on sample preparation.
- Variations in the isotopic ratios of H, C, N, O and S in the natural environment: igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks; hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.
- Isotopic composition of oxygen and hydrogen as a natural tracer in the hydrological cycle: oceans, atmospheric water vapor, precipitation and groundwater.
- The earth-biosphere-atmosphere interface.
- Water in soil and plants. Water-rock interaction.
- Track carbon, nitrogen and sulfur cycles for groundwater quality. The isotopic composition of carbonates.
- The traceability of products (food and other) using the isotope ratios H, O, C, N and S.
- Some considerations on the use of stable isotopes in paleoclimatology.
- Geo-pedological classification of the areas of origin of the agri-food products
- Evaluation of the physical, chemical and mineralogical properties of the cultivation soil
- Analytical and instrumental methodologies for the implementation of traceability systems in the agri-food supply chains
- Determination of the multi-elemental composition of soil and food products
- Food Authentication: Addressing the challenges of food fraud in the global food system
- Geochemistry and its relationship with human health


- Introduction to Geochemistry di Cl. J. Allègre, G. Michard. Springer Verlag; Reprint edizione 2003.
- Book Pdf online free: Sharp, Zachary. "Principles of Stable Isotope Geochemistry, 2nd Edition." (2017). doi:10.5072/FK2GB24S9F; Link for download:
- Food Authentication and Traceability. 1st Edition. Editor: Charis Galanakis. Paperback Imprint: Academic Press.
- Isotopes and the Natural Environment. Author: Alexandre Paul; Edit‎ Springer
- In addition: Didactic and scientific material were provided by the teacher.

Teaching methods

The course will be divided into lectures, thematic seminars and presentations by students of scientific articles, as well as some laboratory exercises where permitted.
The lectures and supplementary materials will be available in pdf on the university platform.

Assessment methods and criteria

To successfully pass the exam, active participation in lectures is recommended, and the reading and synthesis of scientific articles is required, which will be made available on the University platform and assigned to students during lectures. Students will have to prepare an oral presentation with the support of multimedia tools (eg PowerPoint) on one of these articles during the last part of the course and discuss them in the classroom with colleagues under the supervision of the teacher. This will allow to verify the knowledge of the basic concepts and the applications of isotope geochemistry to case studies. At the end of the course, the verification of the acquired knowledge will take place through an oral test structured in two parts: in the first part the student is invited to discuss the article assigned to him; the second part aims at verifying the learning of the concepts presented during the lessons.
Through the oral interview, the student will have to demonstrate that they have acquired knowledge and skills on food authentication and traceability and on the geochemical methodologies based on soil-dependent indicators described and applied during the course.
Non-attending students will contact the teacher for the assignment of the scientific article which will then be presented and discussed during the oral exam.

Other information

Attendance is not mandatory, but it's strongly recommended.