Quaternary Environmental Change

Module summary

Module code: ENVI1152
Level: 5
Credits: 15
School: Engineering and Science
Department: Natural Resources Institute
Module Coordinator(s): Bruce Haggart



The Quaternary is the most recent geological sub-Era spanning the last 2.6m years. It was characterised by a series of ice ages interspersed with warmer periods, such as we are experiencing today. These climatic changes had far-reaching effects on environments on a global, regional and local scale. Investigating patterns and processes of past and present environmental change and appreciation of the linkages and feedbacks in natural environments are essential prerequisites to our understanding of likely future human-induced changes. This module will aim to equip students with the tools necessary to interpret environmental change in the recent past. It is therefore an important part of the training of modern geographers and environmental scientists.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

1. Show and appreciation of the major factors contributing to Quaternary environmental change and their interactions on different spatial and temporal scales.
2. Demonstrate an understanding of the importance of correlation using stratigraphic, biological or chronometric methods.
3. Demonstrate knowledge of Quaternary dating techniques and their use in correlation, calculating rates of change and assessing leads and lags in environmental systems
4. Demonstrate familiarity with current research, issues and debates within this fast-changing subject area.

Indicative content

The module is multidisciplinary in nature and draws on material from the interface between geography, environmental science, geology, botany, zoology, environmental chemistry and archaeology. The module content is divided into the following parts:

1. Mechanisms of climate change on Milankovitch and sub-Milankovitch timescales based on evidence from ocean sediments, ice cores and terrestrial stratigraphy.
2. Dating Quaternary environmental change: one topic taken from radiocarbon, potassium-argon, uranium series, amino acid and thermoluminescence dating techniques and incremental dating methods such as dendrochronology.
3. A regional study such as the Quaternary of SE England and the Thames terrace sequence.
4. Biological evidence for Quaternary environmental change: two topics taken from material including pollen, diatoms, foraminifera, ostracods, and coleoptera.
5. Changes in sea level including major factors influencing sea level on long, medium, and short timescales and a case study of recent sea-level change.
6. Case studies: two case studies will be used to illustrate how the integration of the above gives a more complete picture of environmental change; possible case studies include the Younger Dryas and the Holocene.