GEOL30010 Applied Palaeontology

Academic Year 2021/2022

This module introduces you to sets of palaeobiological data that are widely used in Applied Earth Sciences to help reconstruct sedimentary environments: fossils as bioclasts; ichnofabrics and trace fossils. It will also provide an introduction to the emerging discipline of conservation palaeobiology.

The section on trace fossils and ichnofabrics explores how the structures produced by organisms as they process sediment (bioturbation) are related to key variables such as depositional context, the organism’s ecology and physiology, plus environmental conditions (including degree of oxygenation and sediment consistency). Use of trace fossils and ichnofabrics as a tool in basin analysis reflects their being routinely sampled in core (probably more so than macrofossils), and thus especially relevant to contexts where outcrop data is not available (e.g. offshore sedimentary basins). Trace fossils and ichnofabrics are an alternative, complementary, record to body fossil data when studying key events in Earth’s history. This aspect is explored using the major changes in marine ecosystems that occurred in response to the evolution and diversification of animals during the late Neoproterozoic-early Phanerozoic interval.

The section on fossils as bioclasts considers how elucidating the taphonomy of fossils (=the processes involved in their preservation) informs on the sedimentary environments the host lithologies accumulated in. We focus on the biomineralized tissues of macrofossils, and, in particular, on the processes involved in the formation of concentrations of skeletal debris (shellbeds and bonebeds) and how their internal structure relates to depositional processes.

The course also provides an introduction to the concepts and principles of the emerging discipline of conservation palaeobiology. This approach compares the near Recent fossil record, death assemblages and living communities to examine the ecological health of modern ecosystems. The approach can inform on the extent to which these have been, and are being, modified as a result of anthropogenic activities. Such assessments are a priori steps to defining the baseline of an unimpacted ecosystem and thus a target for remediation activities.

Finally, the course provides practical experience of the identification of fossil material in thin section and the use of scanning electron microscopy, including EDX analysis, in Earth Sciences.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this module students will be have an understanding of:

the basis on which trace fossils are named, and the principal ethologies (behaviour patterns) they represent
how trace fossils are diagnostic of environmental parameters such as salinity, oxygenation, sediment consistency and water depth
how the recurrent association of ichnotaxa (ichnofacies) are characteristic of specific depositional settings, and the use of this in basin analysis
the practical applications of trace fossils in basin analysis, including the appearance of key ichnogenera in field contexts, as well as in randomly oriented sections typical of core
the processes involved in the creation of ichnofabrics, including identifying components generated by overprinting of successive tiers within a community and the emplacement of successive communities
how the, as yet not fully understood, evolutionary palaeoecology of the Ediacaran/Cambrian boundary interval is documented by ichnofabrics produced by epifauna and infauna
the applications of fossils in the rapidly developing field of Conservation Palaeobiology
the principal taphonomic processes that impact of skeletal tissues post-mortem and how they inform on environment of deposition]the processes by which shellbeds and bonebeds form
the identification of the principal groups of invertebrate fossil in thin section
the principles of scanning electron microscopy including compositional analysis via EDX

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Lectures

24

Laboratories

24

Autonomous Student Learning

52

Total

100

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

1. Lectures: to provide the fundamental background and overview for the topics that are being explored
2. Active/task-based and problem-based learning: students will have practical tasks to carry out
3. Group work: students will have the option to work together to develop poster and oral presentations
4. Student presentations: students will be required to provide short overviews on various aspects of the investigated topics 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.


Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
 
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Presentation: Oral Presentation: Students will be assessed on their presentation skills and grasp of the topic 'Evolutionary palaeoecology of the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic transition' Unspecified n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No

5

Presentation: Oral Presentation: Students will be assessed on their presentation skills and grasp of the topic 'Physcial chemical and biological modification of substrates' Unspecified n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No

5

Examination: In house class test during practical examining an aspect of the work covered in 'Fossils as bioclasts' Varies over the Trimester Yes Standard conversion grade scale 40% No

10

Examination: In house class test during practical examining an aspect of the work covered to date on 'Trace fossils and Ichnofabrics' Varies over the Trimester Yes Standard conversion grade scale 40% No

10

Examination: Practical examination testing the taught skills acquired in the course of the module 2 hour End of Trimester Exam No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No

30

Examination: Written Examination: students will be tested onther understanding of the various topics covered under "Trace Fossils and Ichnofabrics" 2 hour End of Trimester Exam No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No

40


Carry forward of passed components
Yes
 
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring Yes - 2 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.

Name Role
Ms Rachel Healy Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Patrick Orr Lecturer / Co-Lecturer