651-4057-00L  Climate History and Palaeoclimatology

SemesterAutumn Semester 2023
LecturersH. Stoll, H. Zhang
Periodicityyearly recurring course
Language of instructionEnglish


651-4057-00 GClimate History and Palaeoclimatology2 hrs
Fri10:15-12:00NO C 44 »
H. Stoll, H. Zhang

Catalogue data

AbstractClimate history and paleoclimatology explores how the major features of the earth's climate system have varied in the past, and the driving forces and feedbacks for these changes. The major topics include the earth's CO2 concentration and mean temperature, the size and stability of ice sheets and sea level, the amount and distribution of precipitation, and the ocean heat transport.
ObjectiveThe student will be able to describe the natural factors lead to variations in the earth's mean temperature, the growth and retreat of ice sheets, and variations in ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns, including feedback processes. Students will be able to interpret evidence of past climate changes from the main climate indicators or proxies recovered in geological records. Students will be able to use data from climate proxies to test if a given hypothesized mechanism for the climate change is supported or refuted. Students will be able to compare the magnitudes and rates of past changes in the carbon cycle, ice sheets, hydrological cycle, and ocean circulation, with predictions for climate changes over the next century to millennia.
ContentThe course spans 5 thematic modules:

1. Cyclic variation in the earth's orbit and the rise and demise of ice sheets. Ice sheets and sea level - What do expansionist glaciers want? What is the natural range of variation in the earth's ice sheets and the consequent effect on sea level? How do cyclic variations in the earth's orbit affect the size of ice sheets under modern climate and under past warmer climates? What conditions the mean size and stability or fragility of the large polar ice caps and is their evidence that they have dynamic behavior? What rates and magnitudes of sea level change have accompanied past ice sheet variations? How stable or fragile is the ocean heat conveyor, past and present?
2. Feedbacks on climate cycles from CO2 and methane. What drives CO2 and methane variations over glacial cycles? What are the feedbacks with ocean circulation and the terrestrial biosphere?
3. Atmospheric circulation and variations in the earth's hydrological cycle - How variable are the earth's precipitation regimes? How large are the orbital scale variations in global monsoon systems?

4. Century-scale droughts and civil catastrophes. Will mean climate change El Nino frequency and intensity? What factors drive change in mid and high-latitude precipitation systems? Is there evidence that changes in water availability have played a role in the rise, demise, or dispersion of past civilizations?
5. How sensitive is Earth's long term climate to CO2 and cloud feedbacks? What regulates atmospheric CO2 over long tectonic timescales of millions to tens of millions of years?

The weekly two hour lecture periods will feature lecture on these themes interspersed with short interactive tasks to apply new knowledge. Over the semester, student teams will each present in class one debate based on two scientific articles of contrasting interpretations. With flexible scheduling, students will participate in a laboratory activity to generate a new paleoclimate record from stalagmites. Student teams will be supported by an individual tutorial meeting to assist in debate preparation and another to assist in the interpretation of the lab activity data.
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesassessed
Techniques and Technologiesfostered
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesassessed
Social CompetenciesCommunicationassessed
Cooperation and Teamworkassessed
Personal CompetenciesCreative Thinkingfostered
Critical Thinkingfostered

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits4 credits
ExaminersH. Stoll, H. Zhang
Typegraded semester performance
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionRepetition possible without re-enrolling for the course unit.
Additional information on mode of examinationThe semester assessment will be based on team and individual assignments. These include a laboratory project producing original paleoclimate data from study of a stalagmite and presentation of results (team project), participation in and summary of a debate on a recent paleoclimate publication (team project), weekly response to online questions in moodle (individual), and finally two individual exercises of paleoclimate interpretation and completed during class time.(individual).

Learning materials

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Offered in

Earth Sciences MasterPalaeoclimatology: Compulsory CoursesW+Information
Earth Sciences MasterBiogeochemistry: Courses of ChoiceWInformation
Earth Sciences MasterGeochemistry: Courses of ChoiceWInformation
Science, Technology, and Policy MasterResources and EnvironmentWInformation
Environmental Sciences MasterClimate History and PaleoclimatologyWInformation