GV2QEC-Late Quaternary Environmental Change and Human Activities

Module Provider: Geography and Environmental Science
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Nick Branch

Email: n.p.branch@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

The study of fossilised plant and animal remains (e.g. pollen, charcoal, insects)  are important components of research in the disciplines of archaeology, geography and environmental science. They provide information on the history of climate and environmental change due to natural processes, and human activities. This module will explore the past relationships between climate and environmental change, and human activities, using case studies from the UK and Ireland. The module will consider the relevance of these scientific data for present day and future environmental conservation and management. Using lectures and seminars, the module will consider the fundamental principles of studying fossilised remains, with an emphasis on the history of vegetation succession and climate change, and land-use history. In the field, we will look at issues of site selection, sampling strategies and techniques, and causes of landscape and environmental change. In the laboratory, we will look at the practice of sedimentology, and pollen,amoebae analysis, for the purpose of palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.


To develop detailed knowledge and understanding of the theoretical framework and main practical approaches used to reconstruct vegetation history, climate change and land-use using sub-fossil biological remains, and sediments and soils.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that students will be able to:

1.    Understand evidence for natural vegetation succession, human interference in vegetation succession and climate change

2.    Understand evidence for human modification of the environment and land-use

3.    Evaluate relevant current theoretical issues and debates in Quaternary palaeoecological research, including the relevance of palaeoecological data for environmental conservation and management

4.    Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of appropriate methods through fieldwork, laboratory work and seminars 

5.    Identify, describe, interpret, integrate and present information in the form of a scientific report.


Additional outcomes:

Laboratory analyses will require the students to familiarise themselves with specific scientific apparatus, technical identification guides and reference collections. Seminar presentations will provide additional training in communication and IT skills.

Outline content:

This module will outline the theoretical framework and main practical approaches used in the study of fossilised remains, and demonstrate how information generated from geological archives (e.g. peat bogs, lakes) can provide improved understanding of vegetation history, human interference in vegetation succession, climate change, and land-use. The module will also consider the relevance of palaeoecological data for present day and future environmental conservation and management. To illustrate these themes, case studies will be used from the UK, and Ireland.. The laboratory practical classes will focus on two classes of sub-fossil remains: pollen grains and spores, and testate amoebae, as well as sedimentology. The classes will involve microscopy and statistical analysis (Stratigraphically Constrained Cluster Analysis) of data. The one-day field trip will introduce the students to practical approaches used for studying the evolution of British heathlands and their archaeological importance. Seminars will involve discussion of key issues, including: (1) The impact of climate change on the environment and human communities; (2) Vegetation and hydrological responses to climate change, and (3) Human impact on the environment.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module comprises 3 lectures (each lasting 3 hours), 2 seminars (each lasting 1 hour), and 16 hours of laboratory-based practical work, and a field class (6 hours). Each seminar will involve a PowerPoint presentation followed by a class discussion. In addition to the classroom and laboratory based teaching, the students will attend a one-day field visit (6 hours).

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 9
Seminars 2
Practicals classes and workshops 16
Fieldwork 6
Guided independent study 67
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Report 100

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students are required to submit two laboratory reports: (1) Vegetation history of SE England (50%); (2) Climate history of Ireland (50%). Each laboratory report is 1500 words (excluding tables, figures and references).

Formative assessment methods:

Students will be given opportunities to complete small, practical tasks in every lecture and seminar. They can check their understanding of key concepts though these tasks.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Resubmission of coursework and/or re-examination

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 20 April 2018


    Things to do now