Quaternary Environmental Change

Module code: GY3352
Module co-ordinator: Dr Sue McLaren 

Module Outline

This module will provide you with an advanced-level understanding of global climatic changes during the Quaternary Period (the last c. 2.6 Million years), with an emphasis on the practicalities of reconstructing palaeoenvironmental changes. We will consider the broad drivers and effects of glacial-interglacial climate change, as well as the remarkable millennial-scale climate changes that occurred throughout this period. The causes and wider implications of the latter are one of the key contributions of Quaternary science to contemporary Earth System Science. The module will consider in detail the proxy data sources used in Quaternary science; notably cutting edge geochemical, geochronological and stable isotope techniques. Research-led regional case studies will be used to highlight approaches to palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in different regions, including tropical, coastal and desert environments, within which the module teaching staff are currently research active. Student-led case studies will also form part of the teaching sessions. The module will seek, in particular, to give you a practical understanding of the approaches used by Quaternary scientists. This will be achieved through lab and computer based practical sessions that will occur throughout the module.

The module will comprise five taught units:

  1. Introduction and context
  2. Basic methods and geochronology
  3. Proxies
  4. Regional case studies
  5. Humans in the Quaternary. 

Each will be associated with a series of lectures, with units 2 and 3 associated with an extensive laboratory sessions and practical activities.


  • 17 hours of lectures
  • 4 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 4 hours of supervised time in workshop
  • 125 hours of guided independent study


  • Report (50%)
  • Exam, 1 hour (50%)