Skip to main content


Marine Climate and Environmental Change

Module titleMarine Climate and Environmental Change
Module codeGEO3455
Academic year2022/3
Module staff

Dr David Reynolds (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

This module traces the evolution of the oceans from their origin, through their changing distribution and morphology as a function of plate tectonics and explores how changes in ocean distribution and changing circulation patterns have influenced the Earth’s climate system. The module takes a telescoped chronological perspective by exploring issues in Deep Time, through the Quaternary glacial-interglacial cycles, to changes during the Holocene and over the last millennium and ends by exploring predictions of the future based on numerical modelling. Techniques used to investigate the climatic and environmental history of the oceans, including physical, biological and biogeochemical proxy records, instrumental series and coupled ocean-atmosphere numerical models, will be explored. There are no pre-requisites but useful complementary modules to have taken in the second year include GEO2428B Atmosphere and Ocean Systems, GEO2451 Ice Sheets: Glaciology, Climate and the Oceans, and complementary modules in the final year include GEO3454 Antarctica: Science from a Frozen Continent and GEO3456 Arctic Climate Change. 

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • explore the hypotheses proposed to explain the origins of the oceans on Earth
  • demonstrate how the Earth’s climate system is controlled over geological timescales by ocean distribution and morphology as a function of internal tectonic forcing
  • emphasise the significance of changes in the Earth’s orbit in controlling marine climate and sea level
  • identify the significance of Earth system feedbacks in controlling marine climate and environmental change
  • explore the relative significance of solar variability, volcanic eruptions and anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions as controls of marine climate and circulation during the last millennium, and the leads and lags between the atmosphere and the oceans over this timescale
  • introduce the major techniques used in proxy-based reconstructions of the marine environment (physical, biological, biogeochemical) and the statistical techniques used to analyse time series
  • introduce the main instrumental series and observational platforms used to measure changes in ocean circulation (e.g. the RAPID array)
  • discuss coupled ocean-atmosphere models that both hindcast and forecast ocean climate in response to a range of forcings
  • emphasise the role of internal variability in marine climate change (ENSO, North Atlantic circulation).

Through attending the lectures and practical sessions and through completing the assessments, you will work towards developing the following graduate attributes:

  • laboratory skills (microscopy)
  • general analytical skills
  • report writing skills
  • problem solving (linking theory to practice)
  • developing your own ideas with confidence
  • being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems
  • task management (identifying key objectives, setting clearly defined goals, developing strategies to ensure individual success)
  • time management (managing time effectively)

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by staff, such as work on high resolution marine climate change (Scourse).

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Analyse the response of the climate system to forcings over different timescales and at varying frequencies
  • 2. Describe the complexity of the climate response of the Earth system and in particular the feedbacks that characterise this complexity
  • 3. Integrate a complex of data of different kinds into synthetic reconstructions of ocean history
  • 4. Relate palaeoceanographic data to other archives, e.g. from ice cores, terrestrial and lacustrine records
  • 5. Describe and sub-sample a marine core, generate micropalaeontological datasets and integrate these with secondary data into a coherent account of ocean history
  • 6. Undertake a sclerochronological practical based on bivalve molluscan shell records to generate and analyse a marine climate series
  • 7. Discuss the problems and potentials of the major techniques used in palaeoceanography and marine climate forecasting

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 8. Describe in detail and analyse essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of geography.
  • 9. Analyse and evaluate independently a range of research-informed literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work.
  • 10. Identify and implement, with limited guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for solving a range of complex problems within geography
  • 11. With minimal guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis and enquiry within geography.
  • 12. Describe and evaluate in detail approaches to our understanding of geography with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 13. Devise and sustain, with little guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions.
  • 14. Communicate effectively arguments, evidence and conclusions using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the indeed audience.
  • 15. Analyse and evaluate appropriate data and complete a range of research-like tasks with very limited guidance.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • The origins of the oceans and their influence on climate and life on Earth.
  • Techniques used to measure time (stratigraphy, correlation, geochronology).
  • Techniques used to reconstruct ocean climate: physical (sediment characteristics, sortable silt index), biological (palaeoecology, micropalaeontology, indicator species, transfer functions, sclerochronology), biogeochemical (oxygen and carbon stable isotopes, trace element ratios, biomarkers).
  • Plate tectonics and changing ocean distribution and morphology through time.
  • Major tectonic events in the history of the oceans: Antarctic glaciation and the evolution of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
  • Major tectonic events in the history of the oceans: Antarctic glaciation and the carbon cycle (the BLAG hypothesis and the uplift weathering hypothesis).
  • Major tectonic events in the history of the oceans: the Messinian Salinity Crisis and the closure of the Isthmus of Panama
  • The oxygen isotope record and orbital forcing: ice sheets and sea level.
  • Reconstructing ocean circulation: kinematic proxies.
  • Ocean climate and Earth system feedbacks: the Younger Dryas and 8.2 ka events.
  • The last millennium in the North Atlantic: solar variability, volcanic dust and greenhouse gases; atmosphere-ocean leads and lags.
  • Coupled ocean-atmosphere numerical modelling: deep time, shallow time and the future.
  • Instrumental and observational series: the RAPID array and other marine series.

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 Teaching14Lectures (14 x 1 hour)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Practical sessions (2 x 4 hours). This practical may have to be delivered as a virtual in the event of continued COVID-19 lockdown/social distancing rules
Guided independent study128Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lecturesOngoing throughout module1-15Oral

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
Practical report (micropalaeontology)502000 words1-15Written and oral
Essay502000 words1-15Written and oral


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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Practical report (micropalaeontology)Practical report (micropalaeontology)1-15August ref/def
EssayEssay1-15August ref/def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certified reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally either be deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as 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 submit further assessments. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the final mark and will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Bradley, R.S. 2014 (3rd ed.) Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing climates of the Quaternary. Academic Press.
  • Armstrong, H. & Brasier, M.D. (2nd ed.) 2013 Microfossils. Blackwell.
  • Cronin, T.M. 2009 Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.
  • Hillaire-Marcel, C. & de Vernal, A. (eds.) 2007. Proxies in Late Cenozoic Paleoceanography. Developments in Marine Geology 1. Elsevier.
  • Lowe, J.J. & Walker, M.J.C. 2015 (3rd ed.). Reconstructing Quaternary Environments Routledge.
  • Ruddiman, W.F. 2013. (3rd ed.). Earth’s climate: past and future. Freeman.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Stratigraphy, correlation, geochronology, palaeoceanography, sediments, sclerocronology, climate, marine, ocean, time, hydrography, micropalaeontology, climate modelling

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date