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QS/ENV 596: Paleoclimatology

QS/ENV 596 (Paleoclimatology)

Course Description

Paleoclimatology is the study of climate and climate changes that occurred prior to the period of instrumental records. Paleoclimate records provide the necessary context for understanding long-term climate variability, and for assessing the temporal structure of extreme climate conditions. Such longer perspectives on climatic variability can be obtained by studying natural phenomena that are modulated by climate and that leave a lasting mark in the geologic record. These paleoclimatic archives give insights into the mechanisms of natural climate change. The lessons that are learned from the study of paleoclimatology provide the background for generation of models of future climate.

This course focuses on the causes of climate change on different time scales, from multi-millennial (hundreds of thousands of years) to millennial, centennial and decadal. Mechanisms of climate change on these time scales vary from changes in Earth’s orbital configuration, volcanic activity, solar activity, greenhouse-gas composition, and the results of atmospheric and oceanic circulation. The course provides an overview of methods used to reconstruct past climates, including dating techniques that place the geologic evidence into a temporal framework. Sources of proxy climate data considered are multiple, including: marine sediment (biogenic, clastic, and isotopic components), glacier ice, lake sediment (microfossils, geochemistry) and lake shorelines (hydrologic balance models), cave deposits, eolian sediment (magnetic susceptibility and soils), and trees (dendroclimatology).

Course Objectives and Outcomes

The goal of this course is to provide students with a solid understanding of paleoclimatology. A secondary goal is to allow students to focus on and practice oral and written communication, encouraging the continued development of critical thinking skills.