The University of Southampton

SOES3015 Palaeoclimate Change

Module Overview

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

1. To provide a general introduction to the study of change in the ocean atmosphere system on historical, millenial, orbital (10 to 100 ka) and tectonic (Ma) time-scales. 2. To focus on records of climate change locked mostly in marine sediments and ice sheets. 3. To introduce students from a diverse range of backgrounds to active research questions and areas of scientific controversy in this most inter-disciplinary area of ocean and earth science. 4. In all of the above, to give particular attention to palaeoclimate research areas of particular strength within OES.

Learning Outcomes

Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Tackle truly interdisciplinary research areas.
  • Time management.
  • Communicate appropriately to a variety of audiences in written and graphical forms.
  • Presentation of complex scientific material in written form.
  • Use of modern graphical software packages and web-based archives.
  • Appreciate issues of sample selection accuracy, precision and uncertainty during collection, recording and analysis of data in this process.
  • Prepare, process, interpret and present data in mainline international journal form.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Collect & integrate several lines of evidence to formulate and test hypotheses.
  • Recognise and use subject-specific theories, paradigms, concepts & principles.
  • Critically evaluate complex literature.
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Have developed a comprehensive understanding of the nature of the modern field of palaeoclimate change and, in particular, have gained an appreciation of climate in the fourth dimension - time.
  • Be conversant with the rapidly expanding 'tool-kit' and explanatory models that have been developed to tackle patterns of climate change at different time-scales over the past 150 Ma.
  • Have built up an extensive knowledge of case study examples from the research literature which will serve as a means for you to critically evaluate published models.
  • Be confident in the interpretation of palaeoclimate records but realistic as to the limits of your analysis.
  • Be able to evaluate the exciting developments recently published in the peer reviewed literature of palaeoclimate.
  • In all aspects of the above, lectures merely serve as the starting point. You are reading for your degree and, as the phrase implies, you must, repeat must, demonstrate that you have read around the subject using the reading lists provided.


In a series of seven lectures we examine mechanisms of palaeoclimate change in the Earth-ocean-atmosphere system from those operating on short time-scales (e.g. abrupt climate change, the 8.2 ka event) to those operating at multi-million year time-scales (e.g. tectonic controls on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and configuration of oceanic gateways). Eight lectures are devoted to developing an understanding of the workings of the palaeoclimate 'tool-kit' and some of the key insights that these proxies have provided on palaeoclimate change in the past 25 years of research. Two lectures deal with climate change on the anthropogenic time-scale linking the past with the future and introducing the IPCC view and ensemble climate modeling. Six thematic lectures "Extreme Climates" discuss some of the most dramatic events in climate history seen on Earth in the past 150 million years, such as the dramatic global warming and cooling events that apparently occurred across the P/E and E/O boundaries respectively. Paper practicals and a mid-term Nature review paper are used to reinforce key concepts.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal Lectures: 26 x 45 minute lectures will provide the theory to palaeoclimate change. Outlines of the lectures are provided. Each lecture systematically covers the main concepts. Where relevant, lecturers' own research experience in the appropriate fields is brought into the lecturing sessions. References to relevant journal articles are provided as essential reading for each lecture. Practicals: In addition to the lectures, six practicals are used to help students obtain a working understanding of key elements of the palaeoclimate 'tool-box'. Written paper: One practical slot is turned over to you for additional independent reading and/or to research your Nature review article. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Independent Study90
Practical classes and workshops15
Total study time142


Assessment Strategy

Theory examination (65%): A 2.5 hour written examination comprising two sections. A total of three questions to be answered, with at least one from each section. All are traditional 'essay style' and some are separated into multiple parts. The division of marks for sub-sections of questions is given to guide you on the length of your answers. Tests Learning Outcomes 1-5. Nature review article (35%): The scientific & presentational quality of the paper. Tests Learning Outcomes 1-5. Formative assessment (0%): The lectures are accompanied by self-assessed paper practicals designed to help you obtain the working understanding of the 'tool-kit' (e.g. isotope systematics/applications) that you will need to perform well in the exam. Failure to produce your written work by the deadline is subject to the usual OES penalties.


Practical exercise


MethodPercentage contribution
Review paper 35%
Theory examination  (2.5 hours) 65%
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