GEOL20110 Global Environmental Change

Academic Year 2023/2024

Earth History: the geological record of global environmental change.

The Earth is currently experiencing an episode of rapid climate change that most authorities consider to be the result of human activities. This change poses a challenge, even threat, to the functioning of Earth's ecosystems.

We can monitor on-going environmental change on local through to global scales using various instrumentation. We can make predictions as the future condition of the Earth System, for example via computer modelling. There is another approach which this module introduces you to. Environmental change over time is a natural phenomenon - part of the normal functioning of the Earth System. The geological record is thus an archive that records the causes and effects of such changes, - both in the relatively recent past (hundreds to thousands of years), and in deep time (tens to hundreds of millions of years).

This module therefore focuses on how the geological record "captures" and informs on global environmental change through time. It investigates how Earth Scientists reconstruct past environments and climates, and demonstrates, using selected case studies, what drives climate change and how ecosystems respond to these forcing factors.

There are three parts:
(a) an introduction to the geological timescale and the stratigraphy of sedimentary successions; these concepts underpin how we 'read' the geological record
(b) a review of the principal sedimentary rock types that are sensitive environmental indicators; it is these that allow us to translate from ' observing rocks' to understanding ancient environments
(c) a review of the large scale global processes that shape climate now and would have done so in the geological past. An introduction, using selected datasets, to the varied ways in which the chemistry and biology of fauna and flora serve as environmental proxies - and indirectly record fluctuations over time in key environmental parameters such as temperature, aridity, salinity and solar radiation.

The module assumes no previous knowledge of these topics, and its content is relevant to those interested in the geological, archaeological, environmental, geographical or biological sciences. It is, however, a Level 2 module so topics are investigated in moderate depth; this extends beyond a general introduction to each topic.

This is an on-line module (i.e. there are no scheduled classes). The workload comprises a series of lectures and independent exercises, presented using a combination of on-line and practical resources. Students complete this workload and supplementary reading in their own time over the course of the trimester. The course presenter will be available at scheduled periods throughout the trimester to assist.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of the module, students will have an understanding of:

(a) the concept of the geological timescale and the basic principles of, and terminology associated with, the stratigraphy of sedimentary successions;

(b) how different sediments, for example fossil soils, evaporates and limestones and their textures can be diagnostic of particular environmental settings;

(c) how changes in sedimentary successions over time occur in response to phenomena such as plate tectonics, changes in sea level, and astronomical forcing of climate;

(d) the extremely varied ways in which sedimentological, chemical and biological data (proxies) are used by earth and environmental scientists to reconstruct ancient environments and climates.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module uses the following teaching-learning approaches:

1. students will utilise online lectures and practical resources
2. students will partake in supplementary reading in their own time
3. drop-in sessions to help students grasp aspects of the topic they require additional help with. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
GEOL30420 - Global Environmental Change 2

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Multiple Choice Questionnaire: Advanced MCQ exam covering first part of course Week 5 n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Multiple Choice Questionnaire: Advanced MCQ exam covering second part of course Week 9 n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Multiple Choice Questionnaire: MCQ exam covering final part of course 1 hour End of Trimester Exam n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No



Carry forward of passed components
Remediation Type Remediation Timing
Repeat Within Two Trimesters
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Online automated feedback

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Throughout the module drop-in sessions will be available for all students to attend and ask questions relating to the online content

Name Role
Assoc Professor Patrick Orr Lecturer / Co-Lecturer