GGES2004 examines long-term environmental change through the period of the glacial-interglacial cycles. These dramatic shifts in Earth's systems are fascinating to study because they show us how the environment reacted to rapid climate change in the past - informing our understanding of what to expect from modern global warming and its knock-on consequences.
We will explore the environmental reactions to past rapid climate change, such as extreme sea level shifts, changed geography of landmasses, wildfire, biome migration and extinction of large game animals. We will also examine the possible drivers of these environmental upheavals and consider the possible trajectory of relevant processes from today into the future (e.g. onset of large-scale icesheet collapse).
By gaining a long-term perspective on climate and wider environmental change we can address pressing modern issues in conservation - for example, how to maintain habitat quality/function and the conservation of biodiversity in the face of large-scale environmental change.
We will first focus on the patterns of climate and wider environment change and how to reconstruct them using core samples and a variety of analytical techniques in the laboratory practicals (these will be taught from first principles, so no prior knowledge will be needed), before moving on to the implications for our modern world.
Two key themes run through the course: sources of information on the forms, rates and mechanisms of global environmental change and secondly the lessons that we can take from the past to inform modern conservation and environmental issues.
The aim of the module is to provide students with an introduction to the major themes of study and the principal issues of the period of the glaciations worldwide and the practical skills to undertake their own research into long-term environmental change. The emphasis is at the global scale for the main framework of themes, with much of the detailed focus on the British Isles - because we know more about Europe and the British Isles than any other area on the globe - and because it is where you are!