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QS/ENV 671: Quaternary Paleoecology

QS/ENV 671 (Quaternary Paleoecology)

Course Description

The Quaternary Period of geologic time represents the last ca. 1.6 million years, a period that witnessed substantial changes on the surface of the Earth, affecting Earth’s climatic, geologic, and biologic systems, including the evolution of the human species. Being the most recent geologic period, events of the Quaternary are not only the most well-preserved and easily studied of any time in the geologic record, but also are the most relevant to our modern environments. For instance, the distribution of modern plant communities are a direct result of external and internal forces and factors that have occurred during repeated oscillations of climate, from predominantly cold to predominantly warm, over the last 1.6 million years. The combination of highly variable climate, along with the development of the human species makes the study of the Quaternary an interdisciplinary odyssey. Concerning the dominant impact of human beings on the planet today, at no time has it become more important to study past ecosystems, and the factors that have determined their characteristics. But the study of Quaternary paleoecology (ecology of the past) is, thus, not only a study of past ecosystems, but also becomes a means to understand our potential future environments, as well as providing a baseline for efforts at environmental restoration efforts.

This course examines topics of paleoecological analysis, relevant to paleoecologists, ecologists, geologists and archaeologists. Analyses of past environments are discussed in light of present and future environments. As an interdisciplinary course we explore not only the biologic communities but also their relationship to former climatic regimes. We concentrate primarily upon proxy indicators that occur in sediments.

Course Objectives

The course emphasis will be (1) review of paleoecological principles; (2) analysis of paleoecological techniques and proxies; (3) review of paleoecology from different regions, primarily western North America; and (4) discussion of special topics currently of interest in the field. There are many topics that could be covered in a course such as this, but I have chosen a few of the most useful techniques and topical subjects of importance for the practicing Quaternary Paleoecologist of the 21st Century.