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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BA Geography with International Study

Study a course tailored to you at the university ranked fourth in the UK for Geography (Guardian University Guide).

BA Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Quaternary Climates and Landscapes

Unit code GEOG21431
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The Quaternary is a period of profound global change, including advances and retreats of ice sheets, expansions and contractions of desert regions and large, rapid changes to both ocean circulation and the biosphere. Understanding the Quaternary period provides the context for present day climate issues and a backdrop to human evolution. This course provides a general introduction to the Quaternary climate system and its impacts on the environments and landscapes of the last 2.58 million years. By exploring these timescales we gain critical insights into the nature and sensitivity of the global climate system to external forcing and internal interactions between the various ‘spheres’ (atmosphere, lithosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere). This course will also explore global and local archives of climate change and learn about the responses of different landscapes and environments. 


·       To develop an understanding of nature and impacts of Quaternary climate change across a range of timescales

·       To acquaint students with the key archives of Quaternary climate change from around the globe, and provide an introductory understanding of methods of dating the past

·       To develop an understanding of the dynamic nature of Quaternary landscapes

·       To consider how humans and other species have responded to changing environments throughout the Quaternary

·       To acquire and develop scientific skills relating to studying the global climate of the past, critical analysis, interpretation and discussion of datasets and theoretical ideas about the climate. 

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you should have gained:

·    the ability to describe and explain the nature of Quaternary climate change, from the ice age cycles to rapid changes

·    an appreciation of the development of dynamic landscapes during the Quaternary

·    the ability to engage with some of the key debates in Quaternary science research

·    familiarity and confidence with some of the key archives and methods used to trace past climate and environmental change, and an ability to interpret the datasets produced

·    critical insight into the roles of climate and environment in the evolution and migration of humans

·    an appreciation of the wider significance of the Quaternary record


1:    Introduction: What is the Quaternary and why do we study it?


2:    Global climate cycles, part 1: What caused glacial and interglacial cycles?


3:    Global climate cycles, part 2: Monsoon dynamics


4:    Reading the Quaternary record: Archives and proxies


5:    Reading the Quaternary record: Regional examples   


6:             STUDY WEEK


7:    Rapid Climate Change, part 1: iceberg armadas and more 


8:    Rapid Climate Change, part 2: the end of the last glaciation


9:             STUDY WEEK   (coursework submission)


10:  Dynamic landscapes: response of drylands in the Quaternary


11:  The Human Story


12:  Revision session 

Teaching and learning methods

The course is delivered though lecture classes (10 x 2hr) and supported by a programme of seminars, which includes a museum visit and computer practical class to build confidence in data analysis.  Independent reading and study is essential. Reading lists and links to electronic resources will be provided on Blackboard. You are encouraged to use the discussion forum on Blackboard to discuss common questions and ideas about the course and share useful resources. 

Assessment methods

The course is assessed as follows:

  • Coursework essay (50 %) 2000 words (set in week 4, and due in week 9)
  • Examination (2 hours) (50 %) (data response short questions and one essay)

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

·       Verbal feedback through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures

·       Formative feedback on Quaternary discussion topics during seminars

·       Verbal feedback on any course unit issue through consultation hours

·       Online feedback via a discussion board

·       Written feedback on coursework essays in the latter part of the semester

·       Written feedback on the examination through personal tutorials


Recommended reading


You must read widely on this course to support the formal lectures. This is a 20 credit course, which equates to 200 hours of study. We therefore expect you to be reading independently to support each lecture. Key readings will be given for each lecture, as well as extended lists to help with wider reading and your revision.


The following general texts are recommended as a start-point for your reading, the first two are freely available on-line through The University of Manchester library:

·         Lowe, J.J. and Walker, M.J.C. (2015) Reconstructing Quaternary Environments. 3rd edition, Routledge.

·         Elias, S.A. and Mock, C. (Eds), 2013. Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science. 2nd Edition, Elsevier.

Key journals include:  Geology, Science, Nature, Journal of Quaternary Science, Quaternary Research, Quaternary Science Reviews, Global and Planetary Change


If you want to know more about the topic ahead of the course, come and chat to Abi and take a look at:


Woodward, J.C. (2014) The Ice Age: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, OUP. pp 163.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Timothy Darvill Unit coordinator
Abigail Stone Unit coordinator

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