Module Catalogue 2020/21

GEO3147 : Palaeoclimates (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Darrel Maddy
  • Lecturer: Dr Louise Callard
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment

GEO2136: Reconstructing Quaternary Environments (to be Global Environmental Change) would be a useful pre-req, but not essential.

Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has projected a future, warmer climate, which has the potential to affect everybody on Earth. From extreme weather events, rising sea level, glacier ice loss, land degradation to migrating ecosystems, the impact of climate change on our socio-economic well being will be profound. Still, the most dangerous aspect of our changing climate is the uncertainty in the exact nature and rate of projected climate change. We know from the recent instrumental record, climate has the ability to have a large impact on humans, but records of past climate rarely extend beyond the last 150 years. The problem with this is these records are too short to critically examine the full range of climate behaviour and variability. As a result, there is great uncertainty in how future climate may respond in a warming world.

Palaeoclimatology is the study of climate prior to the widespread availability of records of temperature, precipitation and other instrumental data. It has been key in showing us how Earth's climate system can shift dramatically between different climate states. Understanding the drivers and mechanisms of these switches in climate state over different timescales is critical to anticipating potential human-driven climate change.

The aim of this module is to introduce students to Earth’s extraordinarily broad range of climate variability, and to provide them with an understanding of the mechanisms of climate change. In addition, the module also discusses how we can reconstruct past climate using a range of proxy indicators, the chronological constraints on palaeoclimate records, and how these are integrated to understand climate change and climate sensitivity.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will be delivered along the following themes:

1.       Orbital climate variability
2.       Quaternary environmental change
a.       Glacial millennial climate change
b.       Interglacial millennial climate change
3.       Millennial climate events during the deglaciation
4.       Abrupt climate events and tipping points
5.       Role of internal modes of climate variability
6.       Climate change, human evolution and civilisation collapse

Within these themes we will explore the palaeoclimatologist’s toolbox to examine strengths/weaknesses of different proxy methods, chronological approaches, and sensitivity of climate to different forcing factors. Delivery of this module will be via a mix of lectures, seminars and inquiry-based learning.

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

At the end of the module students will be able to:

1.       Explain climate change mechanisms and their variability at different temporal and spatial time scales.
2.       Be able critically assess proxy records and associated geochronology.
3.       Evaluate the implications of past climate change for understanding our climate trajectory by synthesising multiple proxy records from different environments (terrestrial, marine, ice sheet).

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of the module students will be able to:

1.       Handle complex concepts and theories.
2.       Demonstrate an understanding of uncertainty in scientific investigation.
3.       Synthesis and presentation of competing arguments and to make informed judgements.
4.       Oral and written communication of scientific results.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture102:0020:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading1164:00164:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesPractical42:008:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures, seminars and inquiry-based learning practical’s will complement each other in providing both a theoretical background and practical training in the analysis of palaeoclimatological data, as well as providing breadth of subject area. Lectures are planned to deliver the background, with seminars reinforcing the concepts of a palaeoclimatologists “toolbox” i.e. how we use proxies and their limitations, and the inquiry-based learning provides opportunities to handle real palaeoeclimate data and to interrogate it.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1202M75Take-home exam
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Poster2M25Poster presentation (groupwork)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The take home exam will test theoretical knowledge of the subject and breadth of understanding of palaeoclimate data. The presentation will test practical skills and ability to analyse, interpret and report palaeoclimate data.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2020/21 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2021/22 entry will be published here in early-April 2021. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.