GEOL40490 Quaternary Geology

Academic Year 2021/2022

What is Quaternary geology?
Quaternary geology is the discipline that focuses on describing and understanding landforms and sedimentary records of the Quaternary Period. The Quaternary is the most recent major subdivision (period) of the geological timescale spanning the last 2.6 million years of Earth’s history. This time interval has been marked by dramatic and relatively frequent changes in global climate. Cold glacial stages alternated with warm interglacial stages, each leaving indicators of past climate in the geologic record. Major events occurred which have shaped or modified the surface of the Earth and deposited thick sediment sequences in basins. Global sea level has fluctuated as a result of changes in ice sheets holding freshwater on land. These changes have had important regional and global geodynamic effects; some of which are still measurable today.

Why study the Quaternary?
The study of the Quaternary helps develop a perspective of the scale and rates at which the many aspects of our landscape change, providing context for ongoing changes we observe today. The expertise of Quaternary geologists lies in their capacity to describe and interpret the geologic and geomorphic records of this period, to reconstruct past environmental change based on a diverse range of geologic archives, and to assess the impact of such changes on the Earth’s surface. This expertise has numerous applications, ranging from mineral exploration, hazard assessment, climate change research, aggregate estimation, and environmental management.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

This course constitutes an introduction to the major topics of Quaternary Geology with an emphasis on: 1) The global glacial geologic record, with a focus on Irish examples; 2) the geologic processes operating in glacial environments and the landforms they create; 3) applications for knowledge about Quaternary geology in mineral exploration and industry; 4) the geologic methodologies used in examining major questions in the past 2.6 million years of Earth history.

Indicative Module Content:

Lecture 1 Introduction to the Quaternary
Lecture 2 Ice Sheets and Glaciers
Lecture 3 Glacial Sediments
Lecture 4 Landscapes and Landforms
Lecture 5 Applied Quaternary Geology (exploration, aggregate, hazards)
Lecture 6 Quaternary Geochronologic Techniques
Lecture 7 Major questions in Quaternary Geology
Lecture 8 Paleo-perspectives on climate change

Practical 1 Glacier Mass Balance
Practical 2 Glacial Landforms
Practical 3 Using Geochronologic Techniques
Practical 4 Examining Paleoclimate records

Field Trip 1: Glacial deposition: Killiney Bay
Field Trip 2: Glacial Landscapes: Wicklow Mountains

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours




Field Trip/External Visits


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Teaching and learning on this module comprises a set of assignments and exams which centre on active/task-based learning; enquiry & problem-based learning; case-based learning; and critical thinking. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
GEOL30040 - Sedimentary Environments

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Examination: Final Exam, covers the semester's lecture material Week 12 No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Assignment: Assignments based on lecture materials Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Class Test: Mid-term assessment Unspecified n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Peer review activities
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback will be provided following each assignment, as well as in-class utilizing ungraded quizzes. Additionally, feedback will be provided following the mid-term test.

Readings will draw from the below:
Note: all books available as ebooks via the library.

Past Glacial Environments, Menzies and van der Meer

Advances in Irish Quaternary Studies, Coxon, McCarron, and Mitchell

The Ice Age, Ehlers, Hughes, Gibbard