Palaeobiology and the Stratigraphic Record

Module code: GL1103

Module co-ordinator: Professor Mark Purnell

Without life, Earth would be a very different place: since organisms first appeared, more than 3 billion years ago, they have fundamentally changed the nature of the Earth's oceans and atmosphere. But in addition to shaping the environment, organisms have also responded to environmental and global perturbations over the millenia -- perturbations that have left their indelible mark in the rocks. In this module, we will explore major events in the evolution of life and in the history of the Earth as recorded in our planet's strata. Reading the record of life through the Earth's strata provides enormous practical benefits (such as the location and exploitation of resources) as well as deep insight into the nature of change on our planet -- past, present, and future. This module will provide your first overview of this major area within geology.

Topics covered will include: 

  • Origins and early history of life
  • The nature of fossils and the fossil record
  • Fossil evidence for the earliest organisms and the evolution of animals
  • The major groups of fossils and their significance, including trilobites, ammonoids, brachiopods, and microfossils
  • Patterns of diversity of life over the last 600 million years
  • How the stratigraphic record allows to us to reconstruct patterns of past climates, past ocean currents, and the size and location of giant ice-caps (and their complete absence at times from the Earth)
  • The timing and location of volcanic activity and meteorite impact
  • Mass extinctions