BIOL 527
Paleolimnology and Global Environmental Change

Winter Term (2013-14)


|Schedule||Learning Objectives| |Course Outline| |Class Schedule| |Grading Scheme| |Policy-Related Issues|



The main aim of this course is to provide students with a background in studies of long-term environmental change, with a focus on research that is especially relevant to today's environmental problems. Key topics include:  climatic change, lake pollution, atmospheric deposition of contaminants and related topics. Lake sediment analyses will be highlighted, but other approaches (such as ice cores, tree rings, corals) will also be explored.  

Seminar Course:  Monday 8:30-11:30.  BIOSC 3112


B. Cumming

Instructor Contact
Phone:  613-533-6153

Office Hours

Before or after class; Monday 1-3 pm; by appointment

Course Website

TA Contact Information


TA Office Hours




Learning Objectives -  The overall goals of this course are to: i) provide an overview of the complexity of environmental issues we are facing today, and how long-term paleoenvironmental data can help inform many of these issues; and ii) provide the opportunity to improve your synthesis and communication skills.  In order to be a successful scientist (and citizen), you must be able to assimilate information, organize information, and be able to present information effectively in both oral (seminars) and written (final paper) forms. We will develop these skills in this course.


Learning Hours


Teaching method

Average hours per week

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Online activity




Off-campus activity




   Private study




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Smol, J.P. 2008. Pollution of Lakes and Rivers: A Paleoenvironmental Perspective – 2nd

Edition. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford. 383 pp.

This text is available from the campus bookstore at:


Course Outline - There is a growing realization that long-term data are vital for understanding many ecological and environmental problems. Unfortunately, such data are rarely available, and so indirect proxy methods must be used to reconstruct long-term records.  One of the leading approaches for inferring long-term environmental trends is paleolimnology and related paleoenvironmental fields. Paleolimnology is a multi-disciplinary science that uses physical, chemical, and biological information preserved in sedimentary profiles from aquatic systems  to reconstruct past environmental conditions.  Paleolimnological reconstructions of environmental change are being used increasingly in a large number of projects around the world.  For example, paleolimnology played a key role in recent international environmental problems, such as lake acidification, eutrophication, and climate change.


The first part of this course (my lectures) is structured to give you the necessary background on presentation strategies as well as a general introduction to the field of paleolimnology.   The remainder of the course is structured to help develop your synthesis, presentation and writing skills.  The topics and papers that I have chosen for your first seminar will highlight the various approaches that have been successfully developed over the years in the field of paleolimnology.  


General advice on seminars - Please practice your seminars in advance.  Your seminar is not meant to be an informal chat, but a coordinated presentation. Tell the audience in your introduction why the work that you will be presenting is important, and how it fits into the "big picture".  Give the audience enough background so that they will understand what is involved in the study or subject. At the same time, try not to bog everyone down in details. You should plan your seminar carefully and practice it, especially with regards to length. I will be timing you (just like you are timed at conferences, etc.).   I will tell inform you when you have 2 minutes remaining and will let you know when your allotted time is up.  If the later occurs, you can then take a very short time to conclude your presentation.  There will be time for some discussion and questions. For each of the first seminars, I have also assigned a reader, who will be responsible reading the papers in detail and asking the initial questions following the presentation. All other students are encouraged to read the chapters prior to the seminar. Note: Please use powerpoint and e-mail ( me your seminar by 5 am of the day that you are presenting. If your file is too large, you may want to sent your file from (free utility for sending large files). Alternatively, you can show up to class @ 8 am and bring your file on a memory stick.


Seminar #1 (15% of final grade) - This first seminar will be based primarily on assigned topic based on a book chapter, review article, and/or journal papers.  The length of this seminar will be a maximum of 25 minutes with 5 minutes for questions/discussion.    However, you are free to use other sources for your seminar.  The papers have been chosen to emphasize different techniques and issues in the paleolimnological literature, as well as a number of interesting topics that the paleolimnological approach can cover.  In many cases, the assigned chapters are quite large, and so you may need to focus on only some aspects of the review or study in question.  Please structure your seminar provide a summary of the importance of the papers assigned,  the paleolimnological approaches used to study this issue, and how this approach contributed to our understanding of the topic.  You will be required to provide a concise handout to the class (14 copies) of your seminar that contains the essential figures used in your presentation. You are not expected to present all the information in these articles – the information and number of articles is to provide you with more than a superficial background on the material which you will be presenting.  It is important to carefully choose and organize the material in your presentation (i.e., don’t try and cover everything in detail! You will need to be selective).  


As part of this course, you will not only be responsible for presenting a topic, but also for being a 'reader' on the  papers used for one of the first set of seminars presented by your peers (this seminar will be also be assigned). The role of the reader is to comprehensively read the assigned papers for that topic, and for starting the questioning following the seminar.  Your participation as a reader will contribute to your participation grade.


Seminar #2 (25% of final grade) - Your second seminar, and the topic of your research paper, will deal with a specific question or approach that is relevant to understanding long-term environmental or ecological change.  The length of this seminar will be a maximum of 40 minutes with 5 minutes for questions/discussion.  In many ways, this final seminar will be more of a challenge than the first one, as you will have more material to work with.   You topic can be a review on any subject that you have chosen related to long-term environmental or ecological research. It can, but doesn’t have to deal with paleolimnology.  The only restraint on your choice of topics is that it has to be on a different topic from your first seminar.  A frequent problem seems to be that either a topic has been chosen that is just too broad, or sometimes too narrow or new, and not enough literature is available. There are lots of good subjects out there, so take some time researching an idea before you commit yourself. 


There are many places you can get good ideas for a topic including the course textbook as well as articles in journals.  For example, see Seddon et al. 2014 (, issues or special issues of Quaternary Science Review (, the NOAA webpage (, and many other journals including the Journal of  Paleolimnology, Quaternary Research, Quaternary International, Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology and Palaeoecology, and The Holocene.


By Week 3, you should have a general idea of the topic that you would like to pursue for your second seminar and research paper.  By Week 4, you will be required to hand in a summary (title, summary of the objectives of your paper, and key references) of the topic you will be pursuing. 


Research Paper (50% of final grade)Your research paper is worth 50% of your mark in this course, and so I am hoping to get a professional review of the subject you have chosen. I strongly urge you to start working on this paper early.  I would suggest that 12-15 double-spaced pages using a 12-point font of text (~2,500 words, excluding figures/tables and references) would an appropriate length. 


The general format of the final paper is up to you. Normally you would have an Introduction, which introduces what you will be talking about, and then go on with your review in a logical manner.  I would also recommend that you also have a Conclusions section, where you briefly try and sum things up, and perhaps suggest future research directions.  Some of the things I expect include: a one-page abstract summarizing your paper; complete captions and sources of all of your figures and tables; all reference in a consistent format. 


The final paper should be submitted to me as a hard copy on the final day of class, as well as a word document via e-mail.  Note: the penalty for late papers is a deduction of 2%/day.   



Class Schedule -  Details of class schedule including, topics and associated readings. Unless otherwise noted, the chapters noted below are from: Smol, J.P. 2008. Pollution of Lakes and Rivers: A Paleoenvironmental Perspective (2nd Edition). Blackwell Publishing, Malden MA. 383 pp.   


Week Topic Details Readings*

Week 1 (Jan. 6)


Review of syallabus; Assignment of 1st seminars (and readers)

Week 2 (Jan. 13)

Introduction to Paleolimnology


Tips on Talks (Discussion)

Introduction to paleolimnology: coring, geochronology and indicators

BIOL527_Lecture 1.pdf


Discussion on how to effective present a seminar (see reading)

Ch. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Clifton HE. Tips on Talks or How to Keep an Audience Attentive, Alert and Around...
Week 3 (Jan. 20)

The Critical Role of Paleolimnology In Understanding Environmental


Discussion of topics for 2nd seminar

The Essential Role of Paleolimnology in Understanding Long-term Environmental Change

BIOL527_Lecture 2.pdf 



Come with ideas for your 2nd seminar and major paper

Ch. 6, 7

Week 4 (Jan. 27)

Hand-in one-page summary of topic choice for 2nd Seminar and Essay





Student Seminar 1-1

Michael Benincasa

(reader -

Nicola Zargarpour)
Metal pollution

Chapter 8. Metals, technological development, and the environment


Student Seminar 1-2

Colleen Burliuk

(reader -

Paisley Thomson)

Persistent organic pollutants

i) Chapter 9. Persistent organic pollutants: Industrially synthesized chemicals hopping across the planet
ii) Foster KL et al. 2011. Effects of seabird vectors on the fate, partitioning, and signitures of contamination in a high arctic ecosystem.  Environmental Science and Technology 45:10053-10069.


Student Seminar 1-3





i) Chapter 10. Mercury -- The metal that slipped away
ii) Cooke CA et al. 2013. Use and legacy of mercury in the Andes.  Environmental Science and Technology 47:4181-4188.


Student Seminar 1-4



Chapter 11. Eutrophication: The environmental consequences of over-fertilization


Student Seminar 1-5

Julia Steegstra

(reader -

Branaavan Sivarajah)


i) Chapter 12. Erosion: Tracking the accelerated movement of material from land to water

ii) McLauchlan, al. 2013. Nutrient cycling in the palaeorecord: Fluxes from terrestrial to aquatic ecosystems. Holocene 23:1635-1643.
Week 5 (Feb. 3)

Student Seminar 1-6

Alanna Goodman

(reader -

Michael Benincasa)
Multiple stressors

i) Smol JP. 2010. The power of the past: using sediments to track the effects of multiple stressors on lake ecosystems. Freshwater Biology 55:43-59.
ii)Battarbee RW & H Bennion. 2012. Using palaeolimnological and limnological data to reconstruct the recent history of European lake ecosystems: introduction. Freshwater Biology 57:1979–1985.


Student Seminar 1-7

Andrew Lue

(reader -

Colleen Burliuk)

Multiple Stressors and Reference Conditions

i) Anderson JH et al. 2004. Palaeoecology, reference conditions and classification of ecological status: the EU Water Framework Directive in practice.  Marine Pollution Bulletin 49:283-290.
ii) Arseneau KA et al. Submitted. Tracking shifting baseline conditions due to climate change in lakes: a novel use of regional reference sites and paleolimnology.  Environmental Monitoring and Assessment


Student Seminar 1-8

Shannon O'Dwyer

(reader -

Ashan Thamilchelvan)

Tracking Restoration  Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Everglades

Willard, DA & TM Cronin.  2007. Paleoecology and ecosystem restoration: case studies from Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Everglades.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5: 491-498.


Student Seminar 1-9



Climate - Pollen

i) Moos MT & BF Cumming. 2011.  Changes in the parkland-boreal forest boundary in northwestern Ontario over the Holocene.  Quaternary Science Reviews 30: 1232-1242.
ii) Williams, JW & ST Jackson. 2007. Novel climates, no-analog communities, and ecological surprises.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5: 475-482.


Student Seminar 1-10

Branaavan Sivarajah

(reader -

Julia Steegstra)
Climate - Chironomids

i) Walker IR & LC Cwynar. 2006. Midges and palaeotemperature reconstruction - the North American experience. Quaternary Science Reviews 25:15/16:1911-1925.
ii) Chase M et al. 2008.  Midge-inferred Holocene summer temperatures in Southeastern British Columbia, Canada. Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology 257:244-259.

Additional information: iii) Eggermont H & O Heiri. 2012. The chironomid-temperature relationship: expression in nature and palaeoenvironmental implications.  Biological Reviews 87:430-456.

Week 6 (Feb. 10)

Student Seminar 1-11



Climate – isotopes and lipids

i) Leng M & PA Barker. Isotopes and lakes Introduction. 2013. Quaternary Science Reviews 66:1-3.
ii) Barker PA et al. 2011.  Seasonality in equatorial climate over the past 25 k.y. revealed by oxygen isotope records from Mount Kilimanjaro. Geology 39:1111-1114.
iii) Damste JSS et al. 2012. Distribution of tetraether lipids in the 25-ka sedimentary record of Lake Challa: extracting reliable TEX86 and MBT/CBT palaeotemperatures from an equatorial African lake.  Quaternary Science Reviews 50:43-54.


Student Seminar 1-12

Ashan Thamilchelvan

(reader -

Andrew Lue)

Climate  – Arid regions

i) Verschuren D et al. 2000.  Rainfall and drought in equatorial east Africa during the past 1,100 years.  Nature 403:410-414.
ii) Hodell, DA et al. 2005.  Terminal Classic drought in the northern Maya lowlands inferred from multiple sediment cores in Lake Chichancanab (Mexico). Quaternary Science Reviews 24:1413-1427.
Additional information:  Borner, N et al. 2013.  Ostracod shell chemistry as proxy for paleoenvironmental change.  Quaternary International 313:17-37.


Student Seminar 1-13

Paisley Thomson

(reader -

Shannon O'Dwyer)
Climate –  Arctic

i) Smol, JP et al. 2005. Climate-driven regime shifts in the biological communities of arctic lakes.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 102:4397-4402.
ii) Smol JP & MSV Douglas.  2007.  From controversy to consensus: making the case for recent climate using lake sediments. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5:466-474.


Student Seminar 1-14

Nicola Zargarpour

(reader -

Alana Goodman)

Climate - Fire

i)Gavin DG et al. 2007. Forest fire and climate change in western North America: insights from sediment charcoal records.  Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5: 499- 506.
ii) Enache MD & BF Cumming. 2009. Extreme fires under warmer and drier conditions inferred from sedimentary charcoal morphotypes from Opatcho Lake, central British Columbia, Canada. The Holocene 19: 835–846.

Week 7 (Feb. 24) Guest Seminars Invited speakers - Max Boreux (Ph.D. candidate, Geography) - Importance of varves in lake sediments  
Week 8 (Mar. 3)

Student Seminar 2-1

Paisley Thomson The paleoecology of coral reefs

Student Seminar 2-2

Michael Benincasa Corals and ocean acidification
Week 9 (Mar. 10)

Student Seminar 2-3

Andrew Lue Sea-level and coastal change

Student Seminar 2-4

Julia Steegstra Techniques used in mine site remediaton and ecological restoration in Ontario
Week 10 (Mar. 17)

Student Seminar 2-5

Branaavan Sivarajah The importance of long-term environmental data for oil exploration and extraction in Athabasca oil sands: a paleolimnological view point

Student Seminar 2-6

Ashan Thamilchelvan Human impacts on mammal diversity in the late Pleistocen and Holocene eras
Week 11 (Mar. 24) Student Seminar 2-7 Colleen Burliuk Climate change and fisheries impacts on Atlantic and Pacific salmon abundances
  Student Seminar 2-8 Shannon O'Dwyer Did global climate change contribute to the collapse of the Classic Mayan civilization?
Week 12 (Mar. 31) Student Seminar 2-9 Alanna Goodman Dendrochronology and climate change
  Student Seminar 2-10 Nicci Zargarpour The ecological consequences of sea-ice decline on marine systems in the Arctic

DEADLINE: Essay due by final class (Hard copy please, and e-mail the associated word document)





Grading Scheme -



Weight (%)

Seminar 1(25 min. + 5 min. questions/discussion)


Seminar 2 (40 min + 5-10 min. questions/discussion)







The seminars will be marked by the instructor or delegate as well as by peer evaluation.  The week following you seminar, written feedback on aspects of your presentation will be given to you including details on: organization and timing, audio-visual aids, delivery, content and handling of questions.   The major paper will be marked by the course instructor.


Details of Grading Method

• In this course, some components will be graded using numerical percentage marks.  Other components will receive letter grades, which for purposes of calculating your course average will be translated into numerical equivalents using the Faculty of Arts and Science Letter Grade Input Scheme.


When letter grades are employed, the following scale will be employed for purposes of calculating your course average:


     Arts & Science Letter Grade Input Scheme

Assignment mark

Numerical value for calculation of final mark

























F48 (F+)


F24 (F)


F0 (0)




Your course average will then be converted to a final letter grade according to Queen’s Official Grade Conversion Scale:

Queen’s Official Grade Conversion Scale


Numerical Course Average (Range)


























49 and below




Academic Integrity and Queen’s Code of Conduct

Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the regulations concerning academic integrity and for ensuring that their assignments and conduct conform to the principles of academic integrity. Information is available in the Arts and Science Calendar (see Academic Regulation 1 -, on the Arts and Science website (see, and at Biology’s website ( and from the instructor of this course. Departures from academic integrity include plagiarism, use of unauthorized materials, facilitation, forgery and falsification, and are antithetical to the development of an academic community at Queen's. Given the seriousness of these matters, actions which contravene the regulations on academic integrity carry sanctions that can range from a warning or the loss of grades on an assignment to the failure of a course to a requirement to withdraw from the university.


Accommodation Policy, Exam Conflicts, and Other Conflicts

Students who feel they need accommodations for disabilities or extenuating circumstances, or have a conflict between exams or other commitments should consult the Biology Department’s website for details about how to proceed ( In general, the earlier a course coordinator is apprised of an extenuating circumstance, the more likely an accommodation can be made. Students are encouraged to be proactive in anticipating difficulties, when it is possible to do so.

Students may apply to write a make-up or deferred exam if they have an exam conflict as defined in the Academic Regulations of the Faculty (See Arts and Science Calendar Regulation 8 - In this case, the student should report to the Exams Office first to verify that there is a genuine exam conflict. Biology professors will not consider your situation to be a conflict unless it meets the criteria set out by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Students may request a make-up or deferred exam if they have an exam conflict with off-campus travel associated with a field course (e.g BIOL-307/3.0 or 407/3.0) that is held during the fall or winter terms.


This material is designed for use as part of BIOL527 at Queen’s University and is the property of the instructor unless otherwise stated. Third party copyrighted materials (such as book chapters and articles) have either been licensed for use in this course or fall under an exception or limitation in Canadian Copyright law.

Accommodation of Disabilities

Queen's University is committed to achieving full accessibility for persons with disabilities. Part of this commitment includes arranging academic accommodations for students with disabilities to ensure they have an equitable opportunity to participate in all of their academic activities. If you are a student with a disability and think you may need accommodations, you are strongly encouraged to contact the Disability Services Office (DSO) and register as early as possible. For more information, including important deadlines, please visit the DSO website at: