Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

SOES6022 Microfossil Evolution, Environments, and Time

Module Overview

This module offers a general introduction to the various groups of microfossils. Alongside their morphology and taxonomy, you will learn how certain groups can be used to solve an array of different problems in the Earth and environmental sciences.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gain practical experience in microfossil identification.
  • Be able to compile, analyse, and interpret microfossil biostratigraphic, evolutionary, and palaeoenvironmental information.
  • Know how to prepare and mount micropalaeontological samples for observation, and the safety precautions necessary for working with such preparations.
  • Develop a background knowledge of micropalaeontological literature sources.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • A working knowledge of the binocular stereomicroscope, transmitted light microscope, and scanning electron microscope.
  • Experience solving complex scientific problems.
  • Skills in manipulating and interpreting published scientific datasets.
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Assign a microfossil to its major taxonomic group, identifying the main morphological and compositional features that allow assignation of an individual fossil to each group.
  • Draw basic palaeoecological, evolutionary, palaeoenvironmental, and geological age interpretations from microfossil assemblages.
  • Determine which microfossil groups and methods are most applicable to the solution of a variety of problems in the Earth and environmental sciences.
  • Apply microfossil-based methods in different sedimentary settings and across different geological time periods to address specific palaeoclimate, evolutionary, and geological age dating problems.
  • Engage with micropalaeontological literature and evaluate published datasets.


Initial lectures in the module will provide perspective on three main areas of microfossil application: palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, biostratigraphy (age dating and correlation), and evolutionary processes. Subsequent lectures will introduce the various microfossil groups and detail their utility as important indicators of past environments by examining the ecology of living representatives of each group and extrapolating this information to the fossil record for palaeoecological and palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. The applicability of different microfossil groups in providing both relative timescales (through zonal schemes and correlation) and biostratigraphic age dating will be detailed, as will the role of certain microfossils in understanding evolutionary history – particularly for foraminifera (marine plankton) and pollen/spores (land plants). Microplankton as agents of global environmental change will also be investigated, especially with regard to marine fluxes of carbonate and organic carbon and associated impacts on atmospheric CO2. Training will be provided in the identification and classification of a broad range of microfossils, including those with mineralised skeletons (calcareous, siliceous, phosphatic) and the organic-walled microfossils (known as palynomorphs). Particular attention will be given to foraminifera, calcareous nannofossils, dinoflagellates, and pollen/spores.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal lectures (45 minute lectures): An outline of each lecture and lecture slides are provided prior to each session on Blackboard. Each lecture systematically covers the main concepts and topics by the use of PowerPoint presentations. Where relevant, lecturers' own research experience in the appropriate fields is brought into the lecturing sessions. References to the applicable chapters of books and/or other relevant journal articles are provided as essential reading for each lecture. All lectures are recorded using Panopto. Practical laboratory sessions: Fully interactive practical classes are supported by staff and post-graduate demonstrators. On request, access to practical material for independent work is also available. Most laboratory classes consist of a short introductory talk, highlighting techniques to be employed and the goals to be attained. Materials examined under the microscope in the practical sessions include washed sediment samples on prepared microfossil slides, permanently-mounted strews of palynological residues, and temporary strew mounts (some made by you!). The practical sessions are integrated as closely as possible to the lecture sessions and are formally structured (i.e. with questions and problems designed around the samples being analysed). Training in processing methods: An introduction will be given to a variety of laboratory-based processing techniques in purpose-built laboratories. An integral part of this process will involve mentioning current COSHH safety regulations. Preparation methods used for scanning electron microscope observation of microfossils will also be described, and a practical slot will be organised to allow you to have the opportunity to see the electron microscope in use for microfossil analysis. Tutor support: All students are encouraged to discuss any aspect of the course with the relevant member of the lecturing staff, most of whom operate an 'open door' policy. Additional lectures/activities: The staff will inform you of any relevant research seminars given in the department by Guest Lectures. A wide range of support can be provided for those students who have further or specific learning and teaching needs.

Independent Study86
Practical classes and workshops30
Project supervision12
Total study time150



MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


There are no additional costs associated with this module.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings