Long-term Environmental Change

Geography 430/530:  Spring 2017
8:30-9:50 T/Th, 175 Lillis Hall

Instructor:  Prof. Dan Gavin, dgavin@uoregon.edu, 110 Condon Hall, 6-5787, office hours: Thursdays 11:00-12:30, or by appointment.

Graduate teaching assistant:  Ollie Gaskell, ogaskell@uoregon.edu, office hours: Wednesday 11am-12pm and Thursday 10am-11am in Columbia 246.

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 contribution to Wikipedia.

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 and final exam, and a Wikipedia article focusing on a particular method, theme, region, or timescale involved in environmental change research, and in-class participation.  Mandatory field trip to the Oregon Cascades to participate in bog coring and tree coring.  The field trip will occur in May (on a Saturday, date to be determined) for weather and snow-pack considerations.  Both exams, a minimum of four "reading reactions", and the Wikipedia article must be completed to receive a passing grade.

Final grade will be computed as:

  1. Midterm Exam: 20%
  2. A minimum of four Reading Reactions and class participation: 20%
  3. Wikipedia assignment: 60% (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:Cronin, Thomas B. 2010. Paleoclimates: Understanding Climate Change Past and Present. Columbia University Press.
  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.
  4. Online: Wikiedu web pages: instructions for writing and editing for Wikipedia.

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 (in development, last update April 02)
Week Date Topic Readings
Apr 04 (T) Introduction to long-term environmental change (the climate system, modern challenges in paleoclimatology) C: Chapter 1
Apr 06 (Th) Methods in Paleoclimatology (archives, geochronology, proxies) C: Chapter 2
2 Apr 11 (T) Deep time: before the Cenozoic (3.8 billion to 65 million years ago C: Chapter 3
Apr 13 (Th) Paleozoic biogeography Stigall et al. 2016
3 Apr 18 (T) Cenozoic climate
Plant biodiversity through the Cenozoic
C: Chapter 4
Willis & MacDonald (sections 1-4 only)
Apr 20 (Th) Primary research vs. secondary sources; fact vs. opinion; Exploring topics & using sources
Assignment: Critique an article.
"Finding Articles" and "Evaluating articles and sources" on Wikiedu
4 Apr 25 (T) Orbital-scale climate change
C: Chapter 5
Apr 27 (Th) Implications of ice-age cycles on modern biodiversity landscape
Wikipedia editing basics; Choosing articles
Assignment: Add to an article.
430: Lomolino Chapter 9: 329-340
530: Dynesius and Jansson
5 May 02 (T) Midterm
May 04 (Th) Deglaciation
Assignment: Choose your topic
C:Chapters 6 (parts) and 7 and 9 (parts)
6 May 08 (M) Assignment: Draft a starter article (due 5:00 pm)
May 09 (T) The migration paradox and phylogeography 430:Northern Woodlands article & Lomolino Chapter 9: 348-353
530: Clark article & Flessa 98-109
May 11 (Th) Holocene climate variability C: Chapter 8
May 12 (F) Move article to mainspace; Build the article
7 May 16 (T) 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
May 18 (Th) Abrupt climate change
C: Chapter 9
May 19 (F) Get feedback; Give feedback
May 20 (Sat) Field trip: Cascades (8:30-6:00)
8 May 23 (T) Hands-on: Working with sediment cores and tree-ring samples none
May 25 (Th) Tree-ring paleoclimatology; dendroecology C: pages 309-317
Speer chapter 1 and 2
9 May 30 (T) Early anthropocene hypothesis
Respond to feedback; Discussions
430: Ruddiman (Scientific American)
530: Ruddiman (Climatic Change)
June 01 (Th) Fire history: humans, climate, vegetation 430 & 530: Whitlock (Bioscience)
10 Jun 06 (T) Conservation biogeography: lessons from the past, hypotheses, data holes 430: Willis (PRS)
530: Willis and MacDonald (sections 5 and 6)
Jun 08 (Th) Article presentations--feedback opportunities none
11 Jun 12 (M) Final article due