EARTHSCI 307 : Dynamic Quaternary Environments


2020 Semester One (1203) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

An advanced understanding of the evolution and variability of climate and environment during the Quaternary Period (last 2.6 million years). The focus of the course is on the identification of these and the use of biological, physical and geochemical proxy methods. The topic is multi-disciplinary and will examine aspects of paleoceanography, sea-level change, paleoglaciology, paleohydrology, paleoecology, paleolimnology, dendroclimatology and speleothems.

Course Overview

This paper aims to explain and illustrate the changing nature of climate and environments from the well-dated and sometimes complete paleoenvironmental records of the Quaternary - the past 2.6 million years. Students will acquire skills to enable them to interpret a range of paleoclimatic, paleoenvironmental and sedimentary datasets, and will gain critical insight into the current understanding of past environmental and climate change in the context of our warming world. Topics covered include: Quaternary sedimentary and tectonic geomorphological records with a focus on the SW Pacific rim; theories of environmental adaptation of organisms to change; paleoenvironmental reconstruction using terrestrial micro- and macrofossils; the application of a range of sedimentological, biological and geochemical proxies for the elucidation of the nature of marine and terrestrial environments, as well as their timing and rates of change.

On successful completion of the course students should have a basic understanding of:

•    The nature of the Quaternary and probable mechanisms that caused the changes we are able to reconstruct

•    Techniques used to reconstruct these environmental and climate changes

•    How  we  make  environmental  interpretations  from  various  types  of  sedimentological, biological, geochemical and isotopic records

•    How  various  types  of  macro-  and  microfossils  are  used  in  paleoenvironmental  and paleoecological  reconstruction

Course Requirements

Prerequisite: 45 points at Stage II, including 15 points from EARTHSCI 201, 202, 220, GEOG 260-263, GEOLOGY 201, 202, or equivalent

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: Disciplinary Knowledge and Practice
Capability 2: Critical Thinking
Capability 3: Solution Seeking
Capability 4: Communication and Engagement
Capability 5: Independence and Integrity
Capability 6: Social and Environmental Responsibilities
Graduate Profile: Bachelor of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Understand, recognise and explain • The nature of the Quaternary and probable mechanisms that caused the changes we are able to reconstruct (Capability 1, 2, 4 and 6)
  2. Use, Evaluate • Techniques used to reconstruct these environmental and climate changes (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  3. Research, analyse, and communicate • How we make past environmental and climate inferences from various types of sedimentological, biological, geochemical and isotopic records (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
  4. Identify, evaluate and apply • Appreciate how various terrestrial sediment sequences record and are used to evaluate volcanic and earthquake hazards and risk (including paleotsunami). (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Final Exam 40% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 25% Individual Coursework
Test 10% Individual Coursework
Project 25% Individual Coursework
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4
Final Exam

Learning Resources

Recommended course texts:
Lowe, J.J., and M. J. Walker, 2015, Reconstructing Quaternary Environments. 3rd Edition, Routledge.
Smol, J.P., 2008. Pollution of lakes and rivers. @nd Edition, Blackwell.
Bradley, R.S., 2014. Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary, 3rd Edition, Academic Press.
Burbank, W. and Anderson, R., 2012. Tectonic Geomorphology, 2nd Edition, Blackwell.

Special Requirements

Laboratory classes are compulsory and assessed.
The laboratory classes during week 6 to 11 are integrated into a major project due at the end of the semester. Attendance at the labs and completion of the work is compulsory as the individual student components for the parts of a whole.

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard [15] point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in.

For this course, you can expect 32 hours of lectures, a 8 x 2 hour laboratory classes, 48 hours of reading and thinking about the content and [24] hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation.

Digital Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed against online source material using computerised detection mechanisms.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website at

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page:

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter (


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course you may be asked to submit your coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. The final decision on the completion mode for a test or examination, and remote invigilation arrangements where applicable, will be advised to students at least 10 days prior to the scheduled date of the assessment, or in the case of an examination when the examination timetable is published.

Published on 11/01/2020 02:59 p.m.