EARTHSCI 307 : Earth's Changing Climate


2024 Semester One (1243) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

An exploration of long-term climatic and environmental variability from deep time to the present - all placed in the context of our warming world. Emphasis is on the nature and drivers of climate change, and the tools used for analysis of past climate impacts on Earth landscapes, the hydrosphere and the biosphere.

Course Overview

This paper aims to explain and illustrate the changing nature of climate and environments from the well-dated and sometimes complete records of past climates and environments available for the last 2.6 million years of earth history (the Quaternary Period). We will also consider major climate events that occurred earlier in earth history and their potential implications for understanding our climate future. 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:  important sedimentary and geochemical  records with a focus on the SW Pacific rim;  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.

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

•    The nature and drivers of past climates and environments with a focus on the last 2.6 million years but with an appreciation of other significant climate events that may be analogous to our present global warming. In this way understanding our climate past is a key to understanding the likely future climate and their consequences i our greenhouse world.

•    Techniques used to identify reconstruct these past environmental and climate changes.

•    How  we  use and interpret the  various  types  of  sedimentological, biological, geochemical, and isotopic records of climate change in the context of what caused the changes identified, their timing and rates of change.

•    How  various  types  of  macro-  and  microfossils  are  used  in  reconstructing past climates and environments.

Course Requirements

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

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 2: Sustainability
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
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 past climates/environments and probable mechanisms that caused the changes we are able to reconstruct. (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5)
  2. Use, Evaluate • Techniques used to reconstruct these environmental and climate changes (Capability 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)
  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, 6, 7 and 8)
  4. Demonstrate • How various types of microfossils are used in reconstructing past climates, environment and ecologies (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 8)
  5. Identify, evaluate and apply • Appreciate how various terrestrial sediment sequences record and are used to evaluate impacts of volcanic, earthquake and even tsunami events. (Capability 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Final Exam 45% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 15% Individual Coursework
class discussions 5% Individual Coursework
Project 25% Individual Coursework
Test 10% Individual Test
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5
Final Exam
class discussions


Tuākana Science is a multi-faceted programme for Māori and Pacific students providing topic specific tutorials, one-on-one sessions, test and exam preparation and more. Explore your options at

As part of the University-wide Tuākana community, The School of Environment Tuākana Programme aims to provide a welcoming learning environment for and enhance the success of, all of our Māori and Pacific students. We are led by the principles of tautoko (support) and whanaungatanga (connection) and hope you find a home here at the School. Students who have identified as Māori and/or Pacific will receive an invitation to our online portal introducing the Programme, the resources we have available, and how you can get involved.
Māori and Pacific students are encouraged to contact Sonia Fonua ( for information about the Tuākana programme.

Key Topics


Special Requirements

Laboratory classes are compulsory and assessed.
The laboratory classes during weeks 7 to 11 form components of a major project due at the end of the semester. Attendance at the labs and completion of the work is important and compulsory as the individual student contributions will make up a part of a whole.

One single day fieldtrip.

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 30 hours of lectures, 8 x 2-hour laboratory classes, 48 hours of reading and thinking about the content, and 36 hours of work on assignments and/or test preparation.

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

Attendance is expected at scheduled activities including labs/tutorials to complete components of the course.
Lectures will be available as recordings. Other learning activities including tutorials/labs will be available as recordings where this is possible.
Attendance on campus is required for the exam.
The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable.

Learning 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.

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. 2nd 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.

All of these are available as ebooks through the UoA library. However, the pace of changes on our ideas around the nature and drivers of climate change mean that the text books are often out of date by the time they are published. Consequently, recommended readings will often be provided during lectures that have been sourced from the recent journal literature.

Health & Safety


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 feedback is a vital consideration for course improvement. Consequently, we are intending to have fieldwork and related exercises, whilst spending time in the lab getting to grips with some of the major tools used in reconstruction of past environments and climates - whilst reducing the workload.

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 for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

You are not permitted to use tools or software which can be used to synthesise and analyse information when completing the assessments in this course. This is because we need to assess your ability to synthesise and analyse information, and we are unable to do so if you use a tool which does this on your behalf. Examples of such tools/software include (but are not limited to) GPT-4, ChatGPT, or Bard.-

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


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.

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

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.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

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 students may be asked to submit 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. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.

Published on 01/11/2023 10:21 a.m.