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 and final exam, a minimum of four "reading reactions", 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: 20%
  3. Research paper: 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: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