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Module OSX-3012:

Module Facts

Run by School of Ocean Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Margot Saher

Overall aims and purpose

  1. To provide an understanding, and practical laboratory experience, of the range of physical, biological and biogeochemical techniques used to reconstruct the history of the oceans.

  2. To understand the role of the ocean in the global climate system over geological timescales and its feedback response to anthropogenic perturbations.

  3. To understand the major causes of changes in ocean circulation and structure and their influence on climate.

Course content

The module is divided into two parts: (1) Quaternary palaeoceanography, the study of the history of the oceans during the last 2.5 million years, and (2) critical events in ocean history during the Mesozoic and Cenozoic. Part 1 is taught through a series of lectures and Part 2 through a series of student-led seminars on iconic events in the last 100Ma of the Earth's history. The module will be delivered by Dr Margot Saher.

Part 1 focuses on how we detect changes in water mass distribution and circulation through time, how we know when these events occur, and their role as part of the global climate system. Key topics include: Deep ocean sediments and climate change; deep sea core stratigraphy, correlation. Dating techniques. Physical palaeoceanographic proxies: multi-sensor core logger data, spectrophotometry, XRF scanners: the sortable silt index. Principles of palaeoecology; distribution of organisms in water masses and sediments. Important fossil groups. Indicator species and transfer functions. Oxygen and carbon isotope stratigraphy; ice volume and sea-level change; palaeoproductivity and atmospheric CO2 fluctuations; comparison with ice core data. Trace element geochemistry. Organic biomarkers. Sea-level change. The causes of climate change; tectonic, solar, orbital and feedback mechanisms.

Part 2 addresses a number of specific events in ocean history, including Mesozoic anoxic events and the origin of biogenic sediments, the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), the onset of glaciation in Antarctica, the closing of the Isthmus of Panama, the Messinian salinity crisis, the onset of Arctic glaciation and the establishment and disruption of the global thermohaline circulation. Cross-cutting tectonic themes will include the origin of the North Atlantic, the closure of Tethys and the break-up of Gondwanaland.

Assessment Criteria


Demonstrating a basic ability to integrate varied palaeoceanographic data, to relate these data to non-marine archives of environmental change and to describe, sample, analyse and interpret a marine core.


Demonstrating a good ability to integrate varied palaeoceanographic data, to relate these data to non-marine archives of environmental change and to describe, sample, analyse and interpret a marine core.


Demonstrating an excellent ability to integrate varied palaeoceanographic data, to relate these data to non-marine archives of environmental change and to describe, sample, analyse and interpret a marine core.

Learning outcomes

  1. Relate palaeoceanographic data to other archives, e.g. from ice cores, terrestrial and lacustrine records

  2. Integrate a complex of data of different kinds into synthetic reconstructions of ocean history

  3. Generate a micropalaeontological dataset and integrate it with secondary data into a coherent account of ocean history

  4. Appreciate the problems and potentials of the major techniques used in palaeoceanography

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Essay 25
REPORT Practical 20
GROUP PRESENTATION Group Presentation 10
EXAM Exam 45

Teaching and Learning Strategy


Lectures (2 per week for 9 weeks)


Seminars (2 days organised as a Conference, 6 hours per day)

Practical classes and workshops

Practical (1 practical, 2 sessions, 6 hours per session)

Private study
  1. Essay assessment: this will require c. 35 hours directed research and reading
  2. Practical assessment: this will require c. 25 hours directed research and reading
  3. Seminar communication: this will require c. 8 hours directed research and reading
  4. Exam revision and wider general reading: c.90 hours

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Numeracy - Proficiency in using numbers at appropriate levels of accuracy
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others


Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: