You will study five core and five optional units, attend a field training programme and complete a dissertation.
Core course units:
Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
This unit will help you to understand the processes that lead to the accumulation of sediment sequences and identify the strengths and limitations of sediment sequences as archives of palaeoenvironmental change. You will develop skills in recording sediment characteristics and attributes in the field and be able to explain the main techniques that are commonly used to construct terrestrial stratigraphies. The unit aims to highlight the issues associated with constructing stratigraphies within the fragmented terrestrial record and the problems of relating these stratigraphies to climatic events in the continuous marine isotopic record as well as highlighting how terrestrial stratigraphies can increase our understanding of major climatic events/transitions.
High Precision Age Modelling
You will gain an overview of the range of dating methods applicable to the study of the Quaternary record, examine the principle limitations and quantified errors associated with each method and consider the potential for achieving better resolved age estimates using selected methods. You will also test the potential for deriving age estimates of centennial to annual age precision, using a variety of approaches and with application to a range of stratigraphic contexts, and gain practical instruction in the construction of age models with quantified error terms.
This unit will develop your understanding of the archives available to provide Quaternary palaeoclimate records (e.g., ocean and lake sediments, ice cores, tree rings etc.) and how the available proxies are used to reconstruct past climate (e.g., stable isotopes, microfossils, sedimentology, radiogenic isotopes and biomarkers etc). You will gain an understanding of the modelling approaches there are to reconstruct past climate (e.g. box, intermediate complexity, GCM etc). The unit will give you an overview of Quaternary climate forcing factors illustrated with case studies (e.g. external - tectonics, orbital forcing, solar; internal – ocean circulations, ice sheets and Greenhouse gases etc) as well as Quaternary climate thresholds, cycles and events (e.g., Onset of Northern Hemisphere Glaciation, Intensification of the Walker Circulation, Mid-Pleistocene Revolution, Glacial-Interglacial cycles, Dansgaard-Oeschger cycles, Heinrich events, ENSO, NAO etc).
Principles of Quaternary Research
This unit will make you aware of the critical issues currently dominating the agenda of Quaternary Science. You will develop your presentational skills, both orally and in the form of web-page design, become proficient in the use of graphics for Quaternary sediment logs and other purposes, become aware of the key techniques in mapping landforms and remote sensing, and develop capabilities in research project design. The unit will also help you to prepare for the fieldtrip in the Scottish Highlands by understanding approaches to mapping and interpreting landforms and sediments in the field, and the history of glaciations in Scotland.
Quantitative Environmental Palaeoecology
This unit will help you understand key concepts in environmental palaeoecology and obtain a working knowledge of palaeolimnological field techniques, particularly coring sediments and developing modern biology-environment training sets. You will obtain a working knowledge and understanding of a range of quantitative methods used in palaeolimnology and paleoecology, gain experience in exploring relationships in multivariate data, analysis of biostratigraphic data and quantitative environmental reconstruction, and critically understand the application of quantitative palaeoecology to issues of recent environmental change.
Field Training Programme
The field training programme consists of a minimum of 13 full working days in the field. The location and duration vary from year-to-year, but you are required to participate in the two main residential programmes for Sedimentology & Stratigraphy and for the Easter fieldtrip.
You will complete an individual research project, the results of which must be submitted in the form of a dissertation not exceeding 10,000 words. Students are encouraged to choose topics that integrate well with the established research strengths and interests of the staff, and each student is allocated one or more supervisors who will provide guidance on appropriate techniques and approaches as required.
Elective course units:
You will be provided with a thorough grounding in the theory and methodology of Quaternary pollen analysis, in particular pollen morphology, pollen identification, field and laboratory techniques, pollen counting, construction and zonation of pollen diagrams, and interpretation of pollen diagrams in terms of past flora, vegetation, landscape and environment.
This unit is an introduction to the extraction of insect remains from sediments and their identification using comparative collections and published keys, as well as their use for stratigraphical correlation and quantification of past conditions using such approaches as the Mutual Climatic Range Method (MCR).
You will be introduced to the application of micromorphology in the study of ancient sediments and soils, as well as to current understanding of processes involved in the formation of these deposits. This option covers the sampling and preparation of thin sections, microscopic and image analysis of thin sections and their interpretation, micromorphology of various types of sediments and soils and qualitative and quantitative descriptive methods.
Theory and Applications of Luminescence Dating
You will be introduced to both theoretical and practical aspects of the luminescence dating of Quaternary sediments, including the physical mechanisms of luminescence dating, preparation techniques and measurement equipment, assessment of equivalent dose and environmental dose rate values and case studies of luminescence dating in a range of sedimentary contexts.
You will be provided with a theoretical and practical understanding of the value of fossil mammal studies to Quaternary science, with particular reference to site formation processes, techniques for the collection, processing and analysis of fossil vertebrate remains, identification, taxonomy and palaeoecology, European Quaternary mammalian faunal history, interactions with early humans and extinctions.
Stable Isotopes and Environmental Change
You will be provided with a theoretical and practical understanding of stable isotopes and their uses, with emphasis on stable carbon and oxygen isotope ratios. You will consider the limitations and advantages of stable isotope measures in palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.
Environmental Factors in Human Evolution and Dispersal
The aim of this unit it to provide a thorough understanding of the principles of human evolution and to examine their application through selected case studies from the last 3 million years. A central outcome will be the evaluation of hypotheses concerning speciation and extinction, as well as cultural and social developments that stem from considering the changing environmental context on human behaviour.
Late Quaternary Palaeohydrology
The principal aim of this unit is to enable you to interpret local, basin and regional scale river responses to tectonic, climate and human drivers. This option will provide a more geomorphologically based approach than other option courses and will be looking at the impact of various climatic events and human impact on river basins.
This course is designed to give students an introduction to the scientific underpinning of tephrostratigraphy and tephrochronology and the essential practical skills required to undertake tephra studies in palaeoenviroenmental records. It includes training in the volcanological background to tephrochronology and tephrostratigraphy, transport, deposition and stratigraphic issues in distal tephra research, identification, extraction and geochemical characterization of distal tephra and age modelling and tephrochronology.
The aim of this course is to provide an introduction to the theoretical and practical study of chironomids (non-biting midges) and their application to environmental change. Chironomids are sensitive indicators of environmental change. They are responsive to a wide range of environmental perturbations including eutrophication, acidification, heavy metal pollution and climate change.
On completion of the course graduates will have:
acquired and demonstrated specialist disciplinary knowledge and understanding of key issues pertaining to Quaternary Science, in particular the core linking themes of:
- high-resolution palaeoenvironmental records
- high-precision dating
- multi-proxy approaches to the investigation of past environmental changes.