MSc Environmental Monitoring, Modelling and Reconstruction

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Climate Change: Past, Present and Future

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG72901
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit provides an overview of the nature, drivers and timescales of climate change. The course unit will review the Earth’s climate system and provide an introduction to climate dynamics across a wide range of timescales from geological deep-time, through Quaternary ice ages, to millennial and rapid changes. Anthropogenic climate change and its forcings will be situated within the context of long-term, historical climate change. The unit will draw on case studies and examples from diverse climate records and offer opportunities for discussion and debate around abrupt change, tipping points, sensitivity/variability, uncertainty as well as an introduction to climate modelling. The course unit seeks to provide a rich context for the study and understanding of past, current and future climate change.


This course unit aims to:

    • Examine the Earth’s climate system and its main components and interactions

    • Evaluate the drivers and timescales of change in the Earth’s climate system

    • Explore the diverse approaches and methods for learning about climatic changes

    • Consider the long-term context and trajectory of current anthropogenic climate change

Teaching and learning methods

Delivery style: 2 hours per week (x 9 sessions). Typical structure would include 1 hour of lecture and 1 hour of seminar discussion. In addition, a further session will be a student-led session with the group presentations (2 hours).

The module is supported by dedicated pages on the Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard) which will contain copies of all learning materials and reading lists, as well as additional supporting resources.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Describe the main components of the Earth’s climate system
  • Discuss the drivers and timescales of climate change
  • Assess the relevance of palaeoclimatology for the understanding of current and future climate change
  • Evaluate the relative contribution of natural and anthropogenic drivers in current and future climate change

Intellectual skills

  • Summarise complex concepts around the physical aspects of climate change
  • Communicate the implications of climate datasets
  • Critically evaluate debates and arguments in climate change research
  • Source and review scientific literature on the physical science of climate change

Practical skills

  • Make choices on relevant data sets and create an effective visual to communicate key climate change trends and patterns.
  • Demonstrate data-visualisation skills through written reports and class activities

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Collaborate with others to plan, develop and deliver an oral presentation (including the use of visual aids).
  • Develop a clear and convincing written argument.
  • Write concisely for a non-academic audience to convey the importance of the physical science of climate change

Assessment methods

(1) Short proposal outlining topic and choice of dataset in Assessment:  ½ page : Formative feedback

(2) Assessment 1 (30%): Group presentation on an aspect of the physical science of climate change.  Presentation to be  delivered in class (oral presentation with use of visual aids).:     15 minutes plus 5 minutes of Q&A.   Formative feedback in class. Written feedback on oral and visual presentation within 15 working days.

(3) Assessment 2 (70%): Individual analytical report on a climate change dataset. Written for a non-academic audience in the style of a briefing note (i.e., page limited) :   3 pages (maximum), including data visualisations.  Written feedback within 15 working days of submission. 

Recommended reading

Readings will be assigned from a range of sources and each week there will be a dedicated list of essential reading.

General texts for the course:

  • IPCC (2021) Climate Change: The Physical Science Basis
  • Bender, M.L. (2013) Paleoclimate. Princeton University Press.
  • Farmer, G.T. and Cook, J. (2013) Climate change science: A modern synthesis: Volume 1-The physical climate (Vol. 1). Springer Netherlands.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 18
Practical classes & workshops 2
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gareth Clay Unit coordinator

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