GEOS3761 – Environmental Change

Imagine a world of wildly escalating temperatures, apocalyptic flooding, devastating storms and catastrophic sea level rise. This might sound like a prediction for the future or the storyline of a new Hollywood blockbuster but it is something quite different: it’s our past. In a day and age when we’re bombarded with worrying forecasts for the future, it seems hard to believe that such things could come to pass. Yet almost everywhere we turn, the landscape is screaming out that the world is a capricious place. But if we don’t tune in, the message is lost. We need to decipher the past and learn from it.

Past environmental changes and their impacts are increasingly providing valuable insights into how our planet works. And it’s becoming evermore clear that nowhere is really isolated from anywhere else. From Sydney to the Arctic, seemingly unrelated parts of the world are connected in one way or another. The aim of this course is to provide you with a critical understanding of past environmental change and what this means for the future. To achieve this we will use a combination of lectures, workshops and tutorials to delve into the methods used to reconstruct different periods when our planet experienced violent swings in climate, sea level, ice cover, fire frequency and greenhouse gas levels.

For the course text we will be using Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past (available as an e-book for free through the UNSW Library), supplemented by the latest research findings.

Session 2, 2017

Study level: Undergraduate

6 units of credit

Hours per week: 3 - 2 hours lectures, 1 hour tutorial. 

Current handbook entry Current timetable 2016 Course outline

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Prof. Chris Turney

To learn more about Professor Chris Turney’s research, visit his personal website.  You can follow Chris' expeditionary work under the banner of Intrepid Science.

Co-convener: A. Prof. Scott Mooney

What does this course cover?

  • The long-term trends in climate and sea-level
  • The causes of climate change
  • Evidence of environmental change from deep-sea cores
  • Oxygen isotope stratigraphy of the Quaternary
  • The Pleistocene-Holocene transition and the Holocene
  • Who were the first Australians?
  • Human environmental interactions in Sahul: material culture and the diversity of land use
  • Why did the megafauna go extinct?
  • Fire in Earth System and long term records of fire in Australia
  • Climate, human systems and environmental change in the historic period
  • Environmental change of the post-Industrial era: acidification, eutrophication and the enhanced greenhouse effect

Where does this course fit into my degree?

Environmental Change is a 6 units of credit (UoC) Stage 3 course and contributes to the Geography Major in Science (3970), the Physical Geography Major in Advanced Science (3972) and to the Environmental Management (3965) program at UNSW. The course has synergies with biogeography, palaeoclimatology and climatology, Quaternary Science, other geo- and environmental sciences and palaeoanthropology and archaeology. The course is designed to be accessible to all upper level students.

Are there mandatory activities for this course?

The course GEOS3761 does not have a field component. There are no (additional) costs associated with the course.

This course aims to consider environmental change over a variety of timescales, ranging from a long time perspective (e.g. formation of the Earth), through the Quaternary, to contemporary human environmental interactions, and then to proposed future climatic changes. Emphasis is placed on understanding the various techniques for the reconstruction of past environmental change.

The workshop program investigates current (and contentious) issues within the discipline, leading to an appreciation of the complexity of contemporary debates in Quaternary science and for some of the environmental issues we are currently facing. These workshops also place an emphasis on critical thinking, and using palaeoenvironmental research for contemporary natural resource management.

Is there anything else I should know?

In the UNSW MyExperience survey for Session 2, 2016, 100% of respondents agreed with the statement “Overall I was satisfied with the quality of the course”. The most common words in response to the question “What were the best things about this course?” included interesting, enthusiastic, supportive and available. In the freeform section to this question one of the students wrote, “It was really challenging! Lots of new and engaging information each week, with passionate lecturers, made this course super enjoyable. I loved reading and grasping concepts with classmates each week. The level to which we worked together as a class was almost completely different to other courses I've done but it was so enriching and valuable".

I took this course a while ago, and need proof of what was covered.

2015 Course Outline


NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).