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This subject examines the nature and causes of past changes in Earth’s climate during the Quaternary Period (the last 2.7 million years), with a particular emphasis on the last glacial-interglacial cycle. It aims to place modern climate and the projections of future global warming into a longer-term perspective, and will allow students to understand why human interference in the climate system may be a legitimate cause for concern. Emphasis is placed on how Earth materials (ice, rocks, sediments, biological materials) record past climate changes, the techniques used to extract this ‘palaeoenvironmental information’, and the principles that govern how this information is interpreted.
A series of lectures covering the theoretical elements of the subject will immediately precede 10 days of field study (in either Tasmania, mainland SE Australia or New Zealand). The field component focuses on how particular environments (e.g. coastal, lake, fluvial, cave, and glacial) preserve evidence of past climate change. Additional lectures and practicals following completion of the field work will focus on the types of analytical methods employed in this field, the nature of the data that are produced and how these are processed and interpreted. By the end of the subject, students will not only appreciate the dynamics of Earth’s past climate and the mechanisms that have forced it, but also the way in which we practice this important and growing field of study.
Intended learning outcomes
At the completion of this subject, students will have a comprehensive understanding of:
- The nature of past climate changes, i.e. the frequency, magnitude and geographic extent;
- The range of driving mechanisms of past climate changes, particularly how they vary according to the time scales considered;
- The advantages and weaknesses of the various 'palaeoclimate archives';
- How specific environments and materials preserve evidence of past climate changes; and
- How the current global warming debate fits into the longer-term perspective of climate change.
Students will also gain extensive skills in the following:
- Hands-on field and laboratory experience in the identification, sampling and analysis of a range of important palaeoclimate archives;
- Critical analysis of the key literature and current debates on past climates; and
- Producing, organising, analysing and interpreting palaeoclimate data.
Upon completion of this subject, students should have:
- The ability to comprehend some of the current debates in the relevant fields;
- Software skills, such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and more specialised software;
- Illustrate an understanding many of the key issues facing many of Australia’s near neighbours;
- Develop an understanding of small island state landscape and environmental issues;
- Oral presentation skills; and
- Group field and research activities .
Last updated: 10 November 2023