Starting and finishing in Christchurch, this field trip looks at evidence in the landscape of past climate change from glacial, fluvial, cave and coastal environments across the South Island, and considers this evidence in the context of palaeoclimate theory and data from elsewhere. The main assessment component is an individual field report.
As human activities begin to make a measurable impact on Earth’s climate, the need to understand the nature and magnitude of pre-anthropogenic changes in climate has taken on a new significance. This subject examines the changes in Earth’s climate during the last 2.7 million years (the Quaternary Period), with a particular emphasis on the last glacial-interglacial cycle (115 ka to the present). It aims to place modern climate trends and projections of future global warming and sea-level rise into a longer-term perspective, and will allow students to understand why human interference in the climate system is such a cause for concern. Through a combination of lectures, labs and fieldwork, the subject will examine how Earth materials (ice, rocks, landforms, sediments, biological remains) record past climate changes, and the techniques used to extract and interpret this ‘palaeoenvironmental information’. Students completing this subject will not only appreciate the dynamics of Earth’s past climate and the mechanisms that have forced it, but also the way in which we practice this important and growing field of study.
Some highlights or typical activities of the Field Trip
- Viewing the terminus of Tasman Glacier, a rapidly retreating glacier near Mt Cook, to discuss the climatic and non-climatic processes responsible for its retreat
- Exploring the depths of Aurora Cave, a spectacular wild cave where evidence of glacial advances and retreats over the past 100,000 years are recorded
- An optional helicopter flight onto Fox Glacier, a truly amazing experience, to learn about how glaciers move, erode the landscape, and how they melt
- A boat trip along Milford Sound to view the stunning fjord landscape that was buried by more than a kilometre of ice 20,000 years ago
- Mapping of glacial moraines near Queenstown to understand what happens when ice retreats at the end of an ice age
- Mapping of stratigraphic sections detailing how glaciation, post-glacial sea-level rise and tectonic uplift interact over multiple climate cycles