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Study information

Themes in Climate Change

Module titleThemes in Climate Change
Module codeGEOM363B
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Stephan Harrison (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module provides an in-depth assessment of important issues in climate change. It places contemporary climate change into its historic context, examines the latest thinking in detection and attribution of recent warming and describes the nature of climate modelling and model uncertainty. It ends with a series of lectures on climate impacts and the relationship between climate change and conflict. By the end of the module you will have the detailed knowledge of climate change to enable you to develop your learning throughout the rest of the MSc and beyond. No prior knowledge or skills is required or pre-requisite or co-requisite modules. While the module does require you to work with a considerable amount of scientific material and concepts, it has been designed to be suitable for both specialist and non-specialist students and may also be suitable for interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module introduces key themes in climate change science by describing the nature of and approaches to climate change science. The history of climatic reconstructions is briefly described, as are the international political and scientific attempts at understanding climate reconstructions and climate change science. The evidence for contemporary climate change is discussed and this is placed into the context of climate change throughout the Holocene and Pleistocene. Throughout the module the arguments from sceptics are discussed in detail.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Summarise the evidence for and processes behind climate change over Quaternary and shorter timescales
  • 2. Criticise different multiproxy methods as means of palaeoclimate reconstruction
  • 3. Illustrate in detail the debate between sceptics and mainstream climate scientists in issues of climate change

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Explain the importance of climate modelling in detection and attribution studies
  • 5. Assess critically the reliability and accuracy of different data types and data sources
  • 6. Evaluate the role of greenhouse gases, volcanic activity and changes in solar activity as climate forcings
  • 7. Recognise and critically evaluate the importance of natural variability as a driver of climate change
  • 8. Relate the role of human activity in climate change

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Communicate and negotiate
  • 10. Organise and present academic materials orally and in written form and in an assured way
  • 11. Set priorities and manage deadlines and targets
  • 12. Synthesise data drawn from a range of sources

Syllabus plan

The module will cover the following topics:

  • Definition of climate change and an introduction to some physical principles
  • Reconstructing climate change and some of the problems of palaeoclimatology
  • The history of scientific understandings of climate change
  • Contemporary climate change
  • Climate sensitivity
  • Climate modelling: GCMs and RCMs
  • Model uncertainty
  • Climate change impacts on physical systems: including glaciers, ice sheets, river catchments and sea level
  • Climate change:  conflict and sceptics

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching22Lectures
Guided Independent Study128Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Question and answer sessions30 minutes1, 3-4Class discussion

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation 4010 minutes plus 5 minutes discussion1-2, 5-12Oral and written
Essay 602000 wordsAllWritten

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Oral presentation Not applicableNot applicableNot applicable
EssayEssayAllAugust Ref/Def period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further essay. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will count for 100% of the mark and will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Ruddiman, W. 2001. Earth's Climate: Past and Future. WH Freeman.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Palaeoclimate, climate change, attribution, detection, impacts, Holocene, Pleistocene, greenhouse, volcanic, forcings

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date