• Offered by Research School of Earth Sciences
  • ANU College ANU Joint Colleges of Science
  • Course subject Earth and Marine Science
  • Areas of interest Earth and Marine Sciences
  • Academic career UGRD
  • Course convener
    • Prof Eelco Rohling
  • Mode of delivery Online or In Person
  • Co-taught Course
  • Offered in Second Semester 2021
    See Future Offerings

This course has been adjusted for remote participation in Sem 2 2021, however students are encouraged to attend on-campus activities if possible.

There are considerable concerns about how rising atmospheric CO2 will affect Earth's climate and marine biogeochemistry in the future. Computer simulations are used to predict future climate changes, but these projections remain very uncertain and the capacity of climate models to reproduce long-term change needs to be thoroughly tested. The only way to do this is by testing model performance against geological archives of past climate changes.

You will examine how geoscientists reconstruct past climate changes combining data from the oceans, atmosphere, ice sheets, land surfaces, and vegetation, and how these relate to reconstructed changes in energy supply from the sun. One important topic that we will cover, for example, concerns the reasons for past atmospheric CO2 changes, and how these influenced the global climate, as well as conditions in the oceans.

The course covers the essential aspects needed for understanding the Earth's climate system such as Earth's energy balance; climate sensitivity; sea level and ice sheet changes; ocean circulation changes; nutrient cycling and atmospheric CO2 variations. These subjects are covered using marked events in Earth history. You will learn how the geochemistry of natural palaeoclimate archives and numerical models is used to reconstruct the history of the climate system and identify the causes of climate change. Geochemical tools and proxies, and geophysical methods, for reconstructing climate changes through Earth's history will be explained. You will learn how to use box models to understand nutrient cycling and atmospheric CO2 changes. We will look in more detail at: the nature of, and relationships between, high-resolution ice-core records from Greenland and Antarctica; abrupt climate changes; the factors that affect short-term climate variability in Australia and how these are currently changing; and the science related to common misconceptions in climate change discussions. A key outcome of this course will be a firm understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes that control Earth's climate, and how they may interact to modulate climate change in the future.

In addition to research-based lectures and practicals, journal articles of greater conceptual difficulty will be made available for students who wish to explore their personal interests in climate change. The teaching material is focused around areas of active palaeoclimate research and presents students with an overview of the latest international scientific understanding of past climate changes and their relevance to the future.

Honours Pathway Option (HPO)

Additional readings of greater conceptual difficulty that require an advanced scientific understanding will be made available for students enrolled in the Honours Pathway Option (HPO). HPO students will be asked to answer additional and/or more challenging questions during exams.


Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Explain how the components of Earth’s climate system and carbon cycle have evolved through time.
  2. Describe positive and negative feedbacks in the Earth’s land-ocean-atmosphere system that control climate change on various timescales.
  3. Quantitatively analyse past climate change using elemental and isotopic tracers, and palaeoclimate archives.
  4. Develop a broad scientific basis for evaluating likely causes and potential impacts of future climate change.

Other Information

This course is taught in "flipped" format. This means the lectures are in video format (offered via Wattle), and the associated lecture slots are used for tutorials and Q&A, to reinforce learning of the relevant videos that should be studied before the tutorials.

Each lecture has links to on-line, formative (not marked) progress quizzes in multiple-choice format, which are given to help you gauge your level of progress.

Indicative Assessment

  1. - 2 exams - 1 pop-quiz at 15%, and a final exam at 50% (65) [LO 1,2,4]
  2. - 1 assignment (essay) set at the beginning with a deadline near course end (35) [LO 1,2,3,4]

The ANU uses Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. While the use of Turnitin is not mandatory, the ANU highly recommends Turnitin is used by both teaching staff and students. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website.


The expected workload will consist of approximately 130 hours throughout the semester including:

  • Face-to face/online component of 3 x 1 hour lectures per week (36 hours per semester) plus 1 x 2 hours of face-to-face practicals per week (22 hours per semester) commencing in week 2.
  • Approximately 72 hours of self directed study which will include preparation for lectures and other assessment tasks.

A maximum of 36 hours of lectures/tutorials and 22 hours of practicals.

Inherent Requirements

Not yet determined

Requisite and Incompatibility

To enrol in this course you must have completed 6 units of an EMSC 2000 level course. Incompatible with EMSC6027.

Prescribed Texts

Required reading:

W.F. Ruddiman, Earth’s Climate: Past and Future (2008), Freeman and Company, New York

Rohling, E.J., The oceans: a deep history. Princeton University Press, 272 pp., 2017.

Rohling, E.J., The climate question: natural cycles, human impact, future outlook. Oxford University Press, 162 pp., 2019.

Preliminary Reading

Key journal articles identified in each lecture. These are updated every year to ensure state-of-the-art information is provided.

Assumed Knowledge

The following courses are useful but are not actually required: EMSC 2021, EMSC 2019, EMSC3023, and/or EMSC3032



Tuition fees are for the academic year indicated at the top of the page.  

Commonwealth Support (CSP) Students
If you have been offered a Commonwealth supported place, your fees are set by the Australian Government for each course. At ANU 1 EFTSL is 48 units (normally 8 x 6-unit courses). More information about your student contribution amount for each course at Fees

Student Contribution Band:
Unit value:
6 units

If you are a domestic graduate coursework student with a Domestic Tuition Fee (DTF) place or international student you will be required to pay course tuition fees (see below). Course tuition fees are indexed annually. Further information for domestic and international students about tuition and other fees can be found at Fees.

Where there is a unit range displayed for this course, not all unit options below may be available.

6.00 0.12500
Domestic fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $4110
International fee paying students
Year Fee
2021 $5880
Note: Please note that fee information is for current year only.

Offerings, Dates and Class Summary Links

ANU utilises MyTimetable to enable students to view the timetable for their enrolled courses, browse, then self-allocate to small teaching activities / tutorials so they can better plan their time. Find out more on the Timetable webpage.

The list of offerings for future years is indicative only.
Class summaries, if available, can be accessed by clicking on the View link for the relevant class number.

Second Semester

Class number Class start date Last day to enrol Census date Class end date Mode Of Delivery Class Summary
6589 26 Jul 2021 02 Aug 2021 14 Sep 2021 29 Oct 2021 In Person View

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