Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Environmental Change: a Palaeo Perspective
Academic Year
Semester 1
Reading List
Other Staff

Course Delivery



Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment Written Assignment  (2500 words)  40%
Semester Assessment Presentation of Student-led seminar  20%
Semester Assessment Poster Presentation  40%
Supplementary Assessment Presentation of Student-led seminar  20%
Supplementary Assessment Written Assignment  (2500 words)  40%
Supplementary Assessment Poster Presentation  40%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

Describe the range of environmental variability that has affected the Earth in recent geological time

Critically evaluate the evidence for different natural processes that have caused changes in the environment

Discuss the complexity of the relationship between climatic and broader environmental change, including the differing sensitivity of various components of the Earth system, and their response times

Evaluate the risks posed by environmental change to human societies in the past, and how such societies have responded

Brief description

The module will examine various topics, and will consist of a series of lectures and staff- and student-led seminars before culminating in a poster session. Each topic will be introduced by a 1 or 2 hour lecture. Following this, students will be asked to read a number of key papers exploring the topic in preparation for a seminar in the following session. The first seminar will be led by a member of staff, but subsequent seminars will be student led, and assessed by staff. Student engagement with the literature will be developed through their reading and participation in the seminars, and will be assessed using a reading journal written by the student. In the last session, students will make a poster presentation of the findings of a research project that they have undertaken based on a specific case study falling within the broad theme of 'Human-environment interactions in the pre-industrial era'.


Week 1: Introduction. Use the theme of the Anthropocene to discuss the importance of understanding natural environmental change in order to place present and future environmental change into context. Provide a conceptual framework for understanding climate forcing factors and wider environmental responses, and the feedback processes that make such interactions complex. Introduce the range of geological proxy evidence used to reconstruct environmental change (e.g. chemical and biological proxies) with illustration of key intervals in the geological past.

Week 2: Student preparation

Week 3: Orbital forcing of climate during the Quaternary, and links with human evolution. This lecture explores evidence for the impact of orbital forcing upon climate, and the extent to which this is expressed in global and regional environmental change. The evidence available to support various theories about the role of climatic and environmental change upon human evolution will be critically assessed.

Week 4: Student preparation

Week 5: Rapid environmental change using examples from the last glacial period, the late glacial or the early Holocene. This lecture explores that illustrate rapid environmental changes such as that which occurred at 8.2 ka. Possible causes for these rapid changes are discussed, including the importance of changes in the thermohaline circulation.

Week 6: Student preparation

Week 7: Society-environment interactions in the mid Holocene. Exploration of the role of environment in the development and demise of human civilisation, and discussion of the controversy around the concept of environmental determinism. The importance of a number of natural modes of variability such as El Ni'r and the North Atlantic Oscillation will be discussed, along with the potential impact upon early societies.

Week 8: Student preparation

Week 9: Society-environment interactions in the late Holocene. The significance of increasing societal complexity upon human-environment relationships, including theoretical models for the extent to which complex, interlinked societies are buffered from environmental change, or become increasingly sensitive to it. Different approaches to assessing societal risk from changing frequencies of natural hazards (e.g. hurricanes) and other environmental changes will be discussed.

Week 10: Student preparation

Week 11: Poster presentations by students (2 minute short introductions followed by poster session) on the theme "Human-environment interactions in the pre-industrial era".

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Analysis of some Quaternary proxy records requires basic skills in application of number. Some poster presentations may require numerical analysis of primary data.
Communication Students will present their work to staff and students both orally (through a formal presentation in a seminar, discussions in those seminars, and through a poster presentation at the end of the module) and in written form (reading journal and poster).
Improving own Learning and Performance Students will conduct much of this work independently, therefore there is a requirement for them to read appropriate literature and maintain good time management to complete the research on time. Seminars will provide and opportunity for students to assess their own contributions relative to fellow students.
Information Technology Students will use a variety of data processing and presentation software, depending on the emphasis of their seminars and poster presentation.
Personal Development and Career planning Independent work and time management skills will be developed. Skills gained in specialist aspects of Quaternary environmental change will directly aid those seeking to undertake PhD research.
Problem solving Students are expected to select a topic for their poster presentation and to assess the effectiveness of different analytical, oral and visual techniques for communicating the problem they have selected to study.
Research skills Research skills are integral to the successful completion of the module as students are required to investigate a number of research topics, both for seminars and to devise their poster.
Subject Specific Skills Specialist skills in aspects of investigating Quaternary environmental change will be acquired. The exact nature of these skills depends on the topics chosen for seminars and for poster presentations.
Team work Student preparation for their seminars and poster presentations will be undertaken individually, but working together will be essential during seminars.


This module is at CQFW Level 7