Long-term Environmental Change

Geography 430/530:  Fall 2018

10:00-11:20 T/Th, 206 Condon Hall
Field Trips: attend one or both:

  1. September 28 (evening)- September 30 (afternoon), to Olympic National Park (camping)
  2. October 6th, to Willamette National Forest (Oakridge)

Instructor:  Prof. Dan Gavin, dgavin@uoregon.edu, 110 Condon Hall, 6-5787, office hours: T.B.D., or by appointment.

Course overview:  Climate and the pattern of life on Earth has changed continuously for millions of years resulting in the landscapes we know today.  Records of past environmental changes have been assembled from a variety of different paleoenivronmental indicators.  This course focuses on the methods used for paleoenvironmental reconstruction, how Earth's climate has varied over a range of different time scales, how the biota, especially vegetation, has varied in concert with climate, and the theories that have emerged to explain those variations.  Emphasis will be placed on data synthesis and use of models to help understand the mechanisms underlying change in natural systems. The main course activity will be writing of a well-researched summary of the environmental changes experienced over time in a region.

Prerequisites: Geog 321 (Climatology) Geog 322 (Geomorphology) or Geog 323 (Biogeography)

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the controls of global and local climate and the scales (temporal and spatial) at which they operate
  2. Identify the sources of information and methods scientists have used the reconstruct past environments, including the biota and climate.
  3. Appreciate how biodiversity today is contingent on past events, and how modern humans have modified certain environments for millennia.
  4. Describe how a knowledge of earth history on late-Cenozoic time scales is relevant to challenges facing humanity today.

Format and grading:  Lectures and discussions in class.  Grade is based on a mid-term, a minimum of four "reading reactions", a Wikipedia editing assignment, and a research paper that summarizes the environmental changes (of at least 500 years) occurring in a particular location, and in-class participation.  Field trips will be centered on sampling trees for developing long tree-ring records of past climate (Olympic trip) or sampling a bog to obtain a post-glacial record of changing vegetation.

Final grade will be computed as:

  1. Midterm Exam: 20%
  2. A minimum of four Reading Reactions and class participation: 30% for Geog 430 (15% if you do Wikipedia assignment), 15% for Geog 530.
  3. Geog 530 required, Geog 430 optional: Creating and editing some content on Wikipedia: 15%
  4. Research paper: 50% (see below for how this assignment is spread over the term).

Academic dishonesty policies will be enforced according to the Student Conduct Code.


  1. Required:Ruddiman: Earth's Climate, Past and Future, 3rd edition (note 7-day free trial on Amazon).
  2. On Canvas: E.C. Pielou. 1992. After the Ice Age. University of Chicago Press.
    Selections will be available on Canvas. You do not need to purchase this book.
  3. On Canvas: Various recent journal articles and book chapters.

Mortiz and Agudo 2013

Reading Reactions: In the second half of the course, you will respond to the readings by writing short responses (submitted on Canvas) prior to the lecture. A minimum of four are required. They will be graded on a 3-point scale. You will not receive written feedback. You will receive full credit if the following criteria are met. If you score less than the full amount, you did not meet one of these criteria:

  1. Synthesize across two or more readings. Mention similarities or differences of fact, opinion, approach, methods, conclusions, etc. Rephrase the take-home messages of the reading (or only the part you focus on for purposes of synthesis with other readings).
  2. Mention readings using proper scientific citation format. This uses parentheses at the ends of sentences or author and year embedded within the sentence (see below).
  3. Between 250 and 600 words as determined using a word count in a word processor.
  4. Uses proper grammar and spelling.
  5. Do not use direct quotations.
  6. A reference list is not necessary.

Citation examples:

Geologically young islands may have low species diversity for several reasons other than the simple reason that there has been a short period for low-probability dispersal events. Whittaker (1996) hypothesized that several factors other than dispersal, such as habitat complexity and speciation rates, change in predictable ways over the geological lifespan of an island.
The time for dispersal to occur, habitat complexity, and opportunities for speciation are all important controls of island species diversity, and all may change in predictable ways with island age (Whittaker 1996).
Course schedule (last update Sept 19)
Week Date Topic Readings
RR=Reading reaction
Sept 25 (T) Introduction to long-term environmental change (the climate system, modern challenges in paleoclimatology) R: Chapter 1 and 2
Sept 27 (Th) Methods in Paleoclimatology (archives, geochronology, proxies) R: Chapter 3
Pielou, pages 39-60.
Sep 28-30 Field trip: Olympic Peninsula. Elwha River, Hurricane Ridge.
2 Oct 2 (T) Tectonic scale climate change R: Chapter 4, Chapter 5 (only very end), Chapter 6
Oct 4 (Th) Greenhouse to Icehouse
Plant biodiversity through the Cenozoic
R: Chapter 7
Willis & MacDonald (sections 1-4 only)
Oct 6 (Sat) Field trip: Western Cascades, Willamette Valley; post-glacial and Holocene history.
3 Oct 9 (T) Orbital scale climate change, part 1 R: Chapters 8,9
Oct 11 (Th) Orbital scale climate change, part 2 R: Chapters 10,11,12
4 Oct 16 (T) The Last Glacial Maximum
Implications of ice-age cycles on modern biodiversity landscape
R: Chapter 13
430: Lomolino Chapter 9: 329-340
530: Dynesius and Jansson
Oct 18 (Th) Climate during deglaciation, Millennial-scale oscillations
R: Chapter 14,15
5 Oct 23 (T) Catch-up, discussion and review
no readings
Oct 25 (Th) Midterm exam
6 Oct 30 (T) The migration paradox and phylogeography 430:Northern Woodlands article & Lomolino Chapter 9: 348-353
530: Clark article & Flessa 98-109
RR 1
Nov 01 (Th) Pacific Northwest biogeography and post-glacial vegetation history 430 & 530: Gavin (OCAR report) pages 36-40
skim: Whitlock 1992 & Gavin and Brubaker 2014 section 4.5
7 Nov 06 (T) Preindustrial climate and humans
Early anthropocene hypothesis
R: Chapter 16
430: Ruddiman (Scientific American)
530: Ruddiman (Climatic Change)
RR 2
Nov 08 (Th) Climate of the last 1000 years
Tree-ring paleoclimatology; dendroecology
R: Chapters 17
Speer chapter 1 and 2 (skim)
8 Nov 13 (T) Fire history: humans, climate, vegetation 430 & 530: Whitlock (Bioscience)
RR 3
Nov 15 (Th) Hands-on in Pacific 217: Pollen analysis, working with sediment cores none
9 Nov 20 (T) Climate changes since 1850
Causes of recent warming
R: Chapter 18 and 19
530: Kouwenberg Geology
RR 4
Nov 22 (Th) No class, Thanksgiving
10 Nov 27 (T) Conservation biogeography: lessons from the past, hypotheses, data holes 430: Willis (PRS)
530: Willis and MacDonald (sections 5 and 6)
RR 5
Nov 29 (Th) 5-min oral research reports none
11 Dec 04 (T) Final paper due