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College of Liberal Arts
Department of Geography
General Information
A. Course Number: Geography 545
B. Title: Palaeoclimatology:
C. Units: 4
D. Prerequisites: Geography 444 or permission of instructor
E. Course Classification: 3 units at C-5 and 1 unit at C-13
F. Responsible Faculty: Porinchu
G. Terms Offered: spring
H. Prepared by: Porinchu and Rodrigue
I. Date of Submission/revision: 11/11/03
Catalogue Description:
GEOG 444 or permission of instructor. A survey of the methods and techniques
used to describe past climates and climate change and describe their impact on
the natural environment with an emphasis on the last 2 million years. This course
will examine the use of proxy records, such as marine and lacustrine sediment
sequences, ice cores, tree rings, corals and documentary data, to reconstruct
past climate. Means of dating past climatic events will also be reviewed. The
possible causes of these events will be evaluated in relation to Earth’s changing
orbital parameters and to internal forcing mechanisms. (Lecture 3 hours, lab
activities 2 hours.)
Expected Outcomes
Upon successful completion of the course, the student will be able to:
A. Recognize concepts and terminology that are fundamental to understanding
and describing past climates
B. Identify and understand the physical processes that are responsible for
modifying Earth’s climate
C. Acquire practical, hands-on training in using geographic tools to analyze past
climates through laboratory exercises
D. Demonstrate improved technical writing skill through term papers and exams.
Course Outline
A. The Earth-Ocean-Atmosphere System and Climate Change (1-2 weeks)
1. The climate system
2. Feedback mechanisms
3. The nature of climate and climate change
4. Causes of climate change
B. Introduction to Palaeoclimatic Reconstruction (1-2 weeks)
1. Sources of palaeoclimatic information
2. Timescales of climatic variation
C. Dating Methods (1-3 weeks)
1. Radioisotopic methods
2. Paleomagnetism
3. Chemical dating methods
4. Biological dating methods
D. The Quaternary Period – An Overview (1 week)
1. Tectonic and volcanic setting
2. Polar Ice sheets
3. Development of glacial theory
E. Review of Palaeoclimate Reconstruction Data and Methods (6-8 weeks)
1. Ice Cores (1-2 weeks)
a. Stable isotope analysis
b. Dating ice cores
c. Palaeoclimatic reconstruction
2. Marine Sediment
a. Palaeoclimatic information preserved in marine sediments – an
b. Oxygen Isotope Studies
c. Relative Abundance Studies
d. Alkenone studies
3. Corals
a. Coral growth rate studies
b. Stable isotopes and trace elements
c. Ocean circulation and glacial-interglacial variability
4. Non-marine geological evidence
a. Loess
b. Periglacial features
c. Snowlines and glacial features
d. Lake-level fluctuations
e. Lake sediments
f. Speleothems
5. Non-marine biological evidence
a. Plant macrofossil
b. Insects
6. Pollen Analysis
a. Pollen analysis – overview
b. Vegetation response to past climate change
c. Quantitative palaeoclimatic reconstructions
7. Dendroclimatology
a. Basics of dendroclimatology
b. Dendroclimatologic reconstructions
c. Isotope dendroclimatology
8. Documentary data
a. Historical records
b. Regional Studies based on historical data
c. Historical records of climatic forcing factors
F. Palaeoclimate Models (1-3 weeks)
1. Types of models
2. Sensitivity experiments using General Circulation Models
3. Model simulations
4. Comparison of palaeoclimate simulations and palaeorecords
Methods of Presentation (A through D required)
A. Lecture and discussion
B. Hands-on physical demonstration of field and laboratory equipment used
in palaeoclimate research
C. Hands-on data entry and computer-based analysis of data, using
spreadsheets, pollen databases, and statistical and modeling software
D. Hands-on design of data presentation in tabular, graphic and
cartographic forms
Methods of Evaluation (A through D required)
A. A minimum of two exams including quantitative and essay questions
B. Lab reports showing all computational work and analyses, relevant graphic
material and maps, competent technical writing skills and mastery of the
scientific method as applied to research questions in palaeoclimatology
C. Develop, research, and write a substantial term paper describing a
methodological or conceptual issue related to climate change or
palaeoclimate research
D. Oral presentation summarizing the results of term paper discussing a
palaeoclimatic research problem
A. Textbooks commonly used in Geography 445
1. Bradley, R. S. 1999. Palaeoclimatology: Reconstructing climates of
the Quaternary. Academic Press.
2. Lowe, J. J. and Walker, M. J. C. 1997. Reconstructing Quaternary
Environments. Longman Press.
3. Dawson, A. G. 1992. Ice Age Earth. Routledge.
4. Imbrie, J. and Imbrie, K. P. 2000. Ice Ages: Solving the mystery.
The Department of Geography has identified three core areas in geography as
emphases, one of which is physical and environmental geography. It has hired five
faculty within the last four years with expertise in this critical disciplinary area (Porinchu,
Laris, Wechsler, Lee, and Rodrigue, in reverse order of hire) and is now expanding its
curricular offerings in this area, with more attention paid to sequencing of courses in the
various subfields of physical and environmental geography. The proposed course fits
into this initiative, serving as an advanced specialty course in the physical and
environmental area especially suited to a sequence consisting of general introductory
physical geography (Geog 140); climatology (Geog 444), which expands on the climate
content of Geog 140; and now Geog 445, which expands on the climate change and
palaeoclimate content of Geog 444. The Department sought to hire a
palaeoclimatologist (Dr. Porinchu) and create this course after discussions with the chair
of the Department of Anthropology and other archaeologists, who requested that we
develop a course that would help their students understand the palaeoenvironmental
contexts of the archaeological sites with which they work. This course is, thus, critical to
the curricula of two departments.