An Introduction to Past Global Climate Changes

Module code: GY2436

This module concerns the causes and consequences of the Quaternary “Ice Age”. During this last 2.6 million years, the Earth has cycled between phases of extreme cold (known as “Glacials”) and periods of relative warmth (“Interglacials”, such as the present Holocene Epoch). Such changes have left major legacies in modern landscapes and biogeographic patterns. In this module we explore the causes of these changes, the impacts of long-term climate change on landscapes and ecologies (including examples from the UK) and the methods used by scientists to date and reconstruct these past climatic changes. The module is taught using lectures covering topics such as the causes of long-term and abrupt climatic change, the origins and climatic significance of glacial landscapes (including examples in the UK) and methods for geochronology. In a practical sessions students work with real palaeoclimatic data to calculate and explore palaeo-temperature changes, while other practicals offer opportunities for hands-on experience of different methods in palaeoenvironmental research.

Topic covered

  • Orbital forcing of global climate
  • Abrupt climate change
  • Methods and theory of palaeoecology
  • Methods in Geochronology (dating)
  • Glaciated landscapes
  • Landscape change in the low latitudes
  • Palaeo sea-level change
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