Undergraduate Course: Volcanoes, Environment and People (GEGR10139)
|School||School of Geosciences
||College||College of Science and Engineering
|Credit level (Normal year taken)||SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate)
||Availability||Available to all students
|Summary||This course aims to assess relationships between volcanoes, the environment and people and to investigate how tephra (volcanic ash) layers can be used to study these interactions. Whilst tephra layers provide valuable information on volcanic activity and its impacts, they also offer a means of studying wider environmental change and the potential impacts of the environment on people and humans on the environment. We will study volcanic eruptions, investigate how their direct and indirect effects can be used to exemplify extreme events, and how tephra layers can be used as chronological tools (through tephrochronology) to assess rates of change and their spatial patterns. This requires a multidisciplinary approach and we will combine a number of disciplines ranging from geology, volcanology, glaciology, geomorphology, soil science, climatology, history and archaeology.
***PLEASE NOTE FIELD COURSE LOCATIONS MAY CHANGE FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS, INCLUDING SECURITY RISKS, INCREASED COSTS OR INABILITY TO ACCESS FIELD LOCATIONS. ANY CHANGES TO THE MAIN DESTINATION OF THE FIELD TRIP WILL BE ANNOUNCED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE***
Volcanoes, Environment and People (VEP) begins by introducing volcanoes, eruptions, tephrochronology, geochemical analysis and dating techniques in the first four weeks. Firstly we will introduce the different types of volcanic activity and the implications for tephra production. Next, several case studies are used to illustrate the environmental and cultural impacts of eruptions. As the recent Icelandic examples demonstrated, even relatively small eruptions can have serious consequences for distant modern societies. The principles and practice of tephrochronology will be introduced using mainly examples from the North Atlantic region. This will include the important concepts of tephra isochrones, intervals of time and environmental tracers. The teleconnections between tephra layers, ice cores, tree rings and ocean cores are also assessed. It will be shown how tephrochronology can be used to record not only volcanic histories, but also establish, date and evaluate rates of environmental change and human-environment interactions. Geochemical methods of characterising tephra layers will be considered next, and we will discuss how this can be used to identify sources, types of eruptions and correlate deposits. We will also have a hands-on session where we will demonstrate different types of tephra and allow you to see samples prepared for analysis. The dating of tephra layers is considered next and we will discuss the various methods of obtaining ages, including using historical information, ice core records, and radiometric dating. There will also be an exercise in calibrating radiocarbon dates and the chronological interpretation of a complex tephra stratigraphy at an Icelandic archaeological site.
The rest of the course builds on the introductory knowledge gained during the first four weeks to discuss in more detail the application of tephrochronology to volcanology, glaciology, archaeology, environmental studies and human-ecodynamics. We will explore the interaction of volcanic activity and glaciers in Iceland, floods and the dispersion of tephra from eruptions in 1918, 1996, 2010 and 2011. We will also discuss how tephrochronology can help us to identify and date eruptions and floods from Eyjafjallajökull 6-7th and 10th centuries AD, as well as dating glacial geomorphological features and aiding our understanding of past climatic fluctuations. Before moving onto consider how tephrochronology can be applied to understand human-environment interactions, the extent of soil erosion in Iceland will be discussed and the reasons why Icelandic soils are so susceptible to being eroded. After introduction the Norse colonisation and settlement of the North Atlantic region and Iceland in particular, the next three lectures will discuss how tephrochronology can be applied to studying cultural and environmental change through chronology and landscape reconstruction. Iceland provides a superb natural laboratory to study these interactions between the environment and people. Precisely dated tephra layers also enable the rates of change to be calculated, which elsewhere is very difficult to measure. We are able to explore notions of changing resilience, threshold crossing events, catastrophe cusps and early warning signals.
The course finishes with a fieldtrip to East Lothian, which provides an opportunity to study exposures of Carboniferous age tephra layers and apply knowledge gained in the course.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
||Other requirements|| None
Information for Visiting Students
|High Demand Course?
Course Delivery Information
|Academic year 2022/23, Available to all students (SV1)
|Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info)
Lecture Hours 22,
Fieldwork Hours 6,
Feedback/Feedforward Hours 2,
Summative Assessment Hours 2,
Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4,
Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours
|Assessment (Further Info)
|Additional Information (Assessment)
||Class Work: Degree essay summary to be handed in at the end of the lecture in Week 4
Degree assessment: 2,000 word essay (50%) to be handed in in Week 8
and a 24 hour Take-home exam ¿ two short essays (50%)
||In order to attain the learning outcomes you have to complete online quizzes and these provide one indication of knowledge acquisition. You will take part in practical sessions in Week 3 and Week 4 and verbal feedback given on your understanding of the physical nature of tephra and tephra stratigraphy.
You MUST read the papers selected for tutorials and participate fully in the related discussions as these six meetings (Weeks 2-9) are key parts of the feedback process and provide important opportunities for you to assess the progress of your learning.
In Week 4 you are required to produce a 1 page (between 400-600 word) summary of your Degree Research Paper; written comments are provided on each submission and there is a related tutorial discussion. The fieldtrip also provides additional opportunities to discuss stratigraphy and the principles of tephrochronology with staff in a practical setting. Verbal feedback will also be given following your oral presentation of your fieldwork exercise.
The final revision session also provides an opportunity to gain feedback on your examination preparations.
||Hours & Minutes
|Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)||2:00|
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
- Develop a detailed understanding of the principles and practice of tephrochronology
- Evaluate the use of tephras to reconstruct environmental change and to assess the role of tephras as agents of environmental change
- Assess the significance of different types of change and recognise the causes of threshold-crossing events
- Develop detailed knowledge of how to use tephrochronology to assess volcano-environment interactions, environmental and cultural change, human-environmental interactions and impacts of volcanism on people
- Seek out and comprehend the essential relevant findings from literature in unfamiliar fields which will also mean you gain an understanding of the ways in which the subject is developed
|Arnalds, O. (2015) The Soils of Iceland. World Soils Book Series. Springer, Dordrecht. pp 183. http://link.springer.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/book/10.1007%2F978-94-017-9621-7|
Loughlin, S.C., Sparks, S., Brown, S.K., Jenkins, S.F. and Vye-Brown, C. (Eds.) (2016) Global Volcanic Hazards and Risks. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp 410. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781316276273
Lowe D.J. (2011) Tephrochronology and its application: A review. Quaternary Geochronology 6, 107-153. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.quageo.2010.08.003
Scmidt, A. et al (2015) Volcanism and Global Environmental Change. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp 339. http://ebooks.cambridge.org.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/ebook.jsf?bid=CBO9781107415683
Sigurdsson, H., Houghton, B., McNutt, S., Rymer and Styx, J. (2015) The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes (Second Edition). Academic Press, London. pp 1143. https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/science/book/9780123859389
|Graduate Attributes and Skills
|Course organiser||Dr Anthony Newton
Tel: (0131 6)50 2546
|Course secretary||Miss Eloise Hepburn
Tel: (0131 6)50 9847