Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Environmental Change in Shetland
Originator Lisa Dumayne-Peaty
Department School of Geography, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT
Tel. +44 (0)121 4147235
Fax +44 (0)121 4145528


Students are provided with a preliminary exercise (on paper) in which they are taken, step-by-step, through the procedure for zonation of an existing pollen diagram from Lewis, including addition of dates, comparison with published isopollen maps, and interpretation of the vegetation record. This illustrates concepts referred to in concurrent lectures (and means that techniques of interpretation are not left until after their counting in the main project). Pollen taphonomy, dispersal, problems of interpreting pine pollen curves included. Actual results from the practicals are referred to in the lectures. In microscope laboratories, with assistance of technician or postgraduate demonstrator, students identify and count pollen and chironomid slides prepared for them. Identification is principally from illustrations in student practical books, not from type material. Students then apply the interpretation skills to their own data.


Students do not set hypotheses, but course is designed to emphasise discrepancies between theory and reality ('Science is messy'): based on site records which contradict isopoll maps. Students have to choose what to accept and what to reject.

Learning objectives:

When students have completed this practical they will:
  1. be able to identify basic pollen and chironomid types
  2. be able to interpret palaeoecological data
  3. be able to relate theoretical concepts to real data
  4. understand the processes involved in Holocene environmental change

Techniques included:

Management of laboratory access:

The microscope laboratory only holds 12 students, so during the 6 weeks of the course there are eight repeats of 2 hour sessions, plus one day on which the laboratory is open to anyone. Timetabling avoids clashes with other courses.


The first 25% of assessment weighting is on the paper-based practical which introduces students to a pollen diagram and the processes of interpretation. The main research report is 3000 words, detailing and interpreting results from the laboratory practical. The structure is set. Pollen and chironomid diagrams created from identification and counting in laboratory practicals are included in the write-up.


Environmental change

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Practicals and Laboratory Work in Geography"

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Page created 28 November 1998
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