APS 313 Global Change

Level 3
Semester 2A
Credits 10
Pre/Co Requisites -
Recommended Requisites -
Teaching Staff  Professor Colin Osborne, Dr Tom Webb
Co-ordinator Professor Colin Osborne


The aims of this course will be to:

  •  Provide a framework for understanding the co-evolution of the Earth system and photosynthetic   organisms over the past 3 billion years.
  •  Reveal how the photosynthetic biota exerts major feedbacks on planetary scale processes that regulate the global environment.
  •  Raise awareness of current controversies in this field of science.
  •  Review the evidence for current anthropogenic global environmental change in the light of lessons from the past.
  • Consider the actions required to avert the imminent planetary emergency facing humanity.


The module will provide a framework for understanding the evolution of the Earth system and its photosynthetic biota over the past 3 billion years before assessing the threats posed by anthropogenic climate change. The emphasis here is on how the past provides a worrying guide to the future. It will address the following major turning points in Earth history: the origins of photosynthesis, snowball Earth, how land plants affect the geochemical cycles of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the origins of grassy biomes and agricultural systems that feed the world. It finishes by reviewing wide ranging lines of evidence for current global environmental change and assesses cutting edge science dealing with the nature of the threat posed by on-going anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Recommended course texts

Ruddiman, W.R. (2001) Earth’s climate. Past and Future. W.H. Freeman, New York.
This book provides excellent explanations, with appropriate level of detail, for all of the major climate events and geochemical cycles covered in the course. Each chapter is logically set-out, with exceptional clear explanatory diagrams, and includes a logical, easy to understand point-by-point summary.

Beerling, D.J. (2007) The Emerald Planet. How Plant’s Changed Earth’s History. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
This book provides excellent background to key scientists involved in making some of the major discoveries covered in the course. This information is coupled with readable details of the scientific case for and against hypothesized roles of plants and terrestrial ecosystems in driving global change during the Phanerozoic (past 540 Myr). It includes numerous citations to the primary scientific literature for following up ideas introduced during the course.

Delivery Method: 12 lectures and three student-led ‘Current Controversies’ workshop sessions based on the scientific literature.

Student Contact Hours: 12

Assessment Method: Examination

Assessment Weighting: 100% Examination

JISC Submission: None

Feedback: Students can receive feedback on performance in examinations by arranging a meeting with their personal tutor.

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