KE6003 - Palaeoecology and Biogeography

What will I learn on this module?

In this module you will gain the necessary skills and knowledge needed to understand how our environment evolved in the past and how it might change in the future. Particular attention will be paid to the reconstruction and assessment of past human impact on the environment. The module strongly supports the interdisciplinary character of Geography by involving a number of different scientific disciplines such as Geology, Ecology, Palaeobotany, Limnology and Climatology.

The topics of this module include:
• Application of palaeoenvironmental reconstruction techniques (e.g. diatom and pollen analysis, and geochemical analyses)
• Principles of Biogeography and Ecology: Understanding temporal and spatial patterns of plant communities and ecosystems
• Case studies of Late Quaternary climate and vegetation
• Detecting anthropogenic impact in sediment records
• Regional vegetation and climate history of North England

The practicals will include a combination of techniques from the indicative list below::
• Core logging (e.g. description of colour using Munsell Color System, classification of sediment layers, identifying hiatus)
• Total inorganic and organic carbon (TIC/TOC)
• Charcoal particle analysis
• Pollen and spore analysis
• Diatom analysis
• Pollen diagram construction using Tilia/TiliaGraph software
• Multivariate data analyses ( e.g. PCA, cluster and correspondence analysis)

On completion of the module, you will know the theory and application of various palaeoecological and sedimentological proxy methods. You will understand the driving forces and feedbacks in the biotic and abiotic Earth System and learn to critically analyse and synthesise scientific data. In this module you will learn to assess the importance of climate change and human impact for the evolution of our modern landscapes and ecosystems.

How will I learn on this module?

You will learn through lectures, seminars, practical workshops. Beyond timetabled sessions, your independent study will be guided and supported through your engagement with a range of interactive learning resources accessible on-line via the module eLP site.

Lectures will provide the necessary background knowledge in Biogeography and Palaeoecology you will need in order to successfully accomplish the coursework. In laboratory courses you will apply this theoretical knowledge and run your own projects. Through practical courses you will learn to further understand the links between the abiotic (e.g. sediment and soils, lake chemistry) and biotic (e.g. vegetation, algae) environment. You will apply a range of different palaeoecological and sedimentological methods to a peat/lake sediment core you took during a previous semester field excursion. The course will focus on the reconstruction of the vegetation and climate history of the last 10.000 years. Following the laboratory practicals you will analyse your data in our computer labs using statistical techniques.

Formative feedback opportunities in seminars and via the on-line resources will consolidate your learning as well as helping to improve your performance in the module assessments.

How will I be supported academically on this module?

During the laboratory and computer practical courses, you will receive direct formative feedback and guidance from staff in support of your learning and skills development. The results of the core logging and initial sample analysis will be discussed during lectures and lab practical.
You will also engage in small group activities during seminars and lectures, where you will use real world examples and data sets and learn how to interpret scientific data and reconstruct past environments. Formative feedback will be given by staff during each seminar. Your class materials will be further supported by on-line resources available via the module eLP site. These resources include an interactive reading list with on-line access to a number of key articles and aligned with your weekly lecture programme Teaching staff operate an ‘open door’ policy for students meaning you can approach them anytime during normal office hours, or via email, to answer questions, receive feedback and support your learning on the module.

What will I be expected to read on this module?

All modules at Northumbria include a range of reading materials that students are expected to engage with. The reading list for this module can be found at:
(Reading List service online guide for academic staff this containing contact details for the Reading List team –

What will I be expected to achieve?

Knowledge & Understanding:
• MLO 1: Critically evaluate and synthesise data and methods which are used to reconstruct past climate and environmental change.
• MLO 2: Assess the importance of climate change and human impact for our landscapes and ecosystems.
• MLO 3: Critically discuss and interpret the links between the abiotic (e.g. sediment and soils, lake chemistry) and biotic (e.g. vegetation, algae) environment.

Intellectual / Professional skills & abilities:
• MLO 4: Generate, synthesise and analyse new data using a multiple method approach.

Personal Values Attributes (Global / Cultural awareness, Ethics, Curiosity) (PVA):
• MLO 5: Make informed decisions through abstraction and synthesis of multiproxy data and information, develop reasoned arguments and challenge assumptions.

How will I be assessed?

You will be assessed by a final coursework at the end of the semester (100%) addressing all the MLOs. The coursework includes report on the vegetation and climate history based on the pollen, diatom, sedimentological and charcoal particle data you generated during the practicals. The All data should be analysed using multivariate statistics and interpreted and discussed in a regional palaeoclimatic, palaeolimnological and palaeoecological context. The final coursework should be written in a style of a short research paper/report and will have a limit of 2,500 words. You will be supported for your report writing with examples of previous student reports and discussions with staff during lectures and practicals. With this coursework you will learn to critically evaluate, competently discuss and analyse new research data.


KE5002 Cold and Palaeoenvironments



Module abstract

Through a combination of lectures and practical laboratory work you will learn in this module how to generate and analyse data from a sediment core and to write professional research reports. You will take part in a project that uses multiple methods to reconstruct past environmental change, fire history and early human impact. Methods you will explore in our state-of-the-art laboratories include the analyses of pollen, spores, diatoms, carbon content, charcoal particles and sediments. You will further learn how to process these data using multivariate statistical analysis. The module will be assessed through report writing which will give you additional training for your final dissertation project.

Course info

UCAS Code F840

Credits 20

Level of Study Undergraduate

Mode of Study 3 years Full Time or 4 years with a placement (sandwich)/study abroad

Department Geography and Environmental Sciences

Location City Campus, Northumbria University

City Newcastle

Start September 2024 or September 2025

Fee Information

Module Information

All information is accurate at the time of sharing. 

Full time Courses are primarily delivered via on-campus face to face learning but could include elements of online learning. Most courses run as planned and as promoted on our website and via our marketing materials, but if there are any substantial changes (as determined by the Competition and Markets Authority) to a course or there is the potential that course may be withdrawn, we will notify all affected applicants as soon as possible with advice and guidance regarding their options. It is also important to be aware that optional modules listed on course pages may be subject to change depending on uptake numbers each year.  

Contact time is subject to increase or decrease in line with possible restrictions imposed by the government or the University in the interest of maintaining the health and safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and visitors if this is deemed necessary in future.


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