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Tropical Palaeoecology and Palaeoclimatology

Module titleTropical Palaeoecology and Palaeoclimatology
Module codeGEO3229
Academic year2018/9
Module staff

Dr Dunia H. Urrego (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module will cover the most important drivers of orbital to centennial-scale environmental change in tropical systems, with a particular emphasis in the American tropics and subtropics. The module content will combine advanced concepts of climatology, biogeography, and environmental archaeology. Lectures will cover the Younger Dryas, megafauna extinctions, quantitative methods for palaeoenvironmental reconstructions, probabilistic chronologies, and the 1491 hypothesis, among other topics of current scientific debate regarding long-term environmental change in the Neotropics. This module will allow you to put current and future threats to tropical biodiversity into a historical context, and to critically evaluate global-change environmental policies regarding some of the richest forests on earth.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The overall aims of this module are to develop an understanding of past global climate changes and their signature in tropical systems, learn new approaches of climate reconstruction and get familiar with quantitative analysis of palaeodata. We will explore and discuss glacial-interglacial cycles, millennial-scale climate variability and historical records from the Amazon and the tropical Andes. Practical sessions will introduce you to novel tropical palaeoenvironmental markers, multivariate statistics, palaeodata manipulation, and Bayesian probability analyses.

The coursework of this module will allow you to develop effective communication skills for broad non-specialist scientific audiences, while the practical exercises will introduce you to computational and programming skills desirable in today’s employment market.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Explain environmental change forcing, from orbital to human
  • 2. Explore advanced methods of palaeoclimate reconstruction in the tropical regions
  • 3. Understand climatic mechanisms at play in the tropical regions
  • 4. Describe challenges for the future of tropical biodiversity
  • 5. Explain the spatial and temporal characteristics of environmental perturbations in the tropics

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Describe tropical ecosystems and environmental history
  • 7. Evaluate the impacts of human occupation in the American tropics
  • 8. Perform advanced statistical analyses of palaeodata
  • 9. Develop Bayesian probability, regression, and interpolation-based chronologies

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Communicate ideas, principles and theories effectively and fluently to a non-scientific audience
  • 11. Develop a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 12. Formulate and evaluate questions and identify and evaluate approaches to problem solving
  • 13. Identify, acquire, critically evaluate and synthesise data from a range of sources
  • 14. Effectively and appropriately interpret and use physical theory and statistical information
  • 15. Undertake independent/self-directed study/learning (including time management, library use and website investigation) to achieve consistent, proficient and sustained attainment

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

  • The earth system and past climate change
  • Tropical ecosystems and their climatic and environmental setting
  • Methods of palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in tropical systems
  • Amazonia during glacial times: the Refugia hypothesis
  • The Younger Dryas and megafauna extinctions in the American tropics
  • Abrupt climate variability and its signature in the American tropics
  • Fire: disturbance or natural component of tropical ecosystems?
  • The history of past human occupation in Amazonia and the 1491 hypothesis
  • Challenges for the future of tropical biodiversity under a changing world

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching18Lectures (6 x 3 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6Laboratory practicals (2 x 3 hours)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching6Computer practicals (2 x 3 hours)
Guided Independent Study40Reading, analysing, critiquing, reviewing scientific literature
Guided Independent Study48Essay reading and preparation
Guided Independent Study32Exam revision and preparation


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Laboratory and computer exercises2 hours x 4 exercises2, 8, 9, 12Staff and peer assessment

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Practicals (laboratory and computer exercises)102 hours each2, 8, 9, 12Written, oral
Report401500 wordsAllWritten, oral
Examination502 hoursAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Practical exercisesAlternative assessment 2, 8, 9, 12August Ref/Def
Report Report All August Ref/Def
ExaminationExaminationAll August Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to sit a further examination or submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Birks, H. J. B., Lotter, A. F., Juggins, S., & Smol, J. P.: Tracking Environmental Change Using Lake Sediments: Data Handling and Numerical Techniques. Vol. 5. Springer, 2012.
  • Bradley, R. S.: Paleoclimatology: reconstructing climates of the Quaternary, Academic Press, 1999.
  • Cronin, T. M.: Paleoclimates: understanding climate change past and present, Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Mann, C. C.: 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
  • Mann, C. C.: 1493: uncovering the new world Columbus created, Random House Digital, Inc., 2011.
  • Vimeux, F., Sylvestre, F., and Khodri, M.: Past climate variability in South America and surrounding regions: from the Last Glacial Maximum to the Holocene, Springer, 2009.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Abrupt climate change, tropical biogeography, environmental archaeology, Pleistocene, Holocene

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date