Palynology for Geologists

Course Description

The purpose of this course is to provide succinct information and insight into palynological data and techniques through instilling an understanding of the main palynomorph groups, their uses, advantages and disadvantages and what they can and cannot do. This will aid the non-specialist geologist to get the most out of her palynological data. It will do this by providing simple jargon-free information on palynomorph groups, and real-world case studies of the ways in which these have been used in geological problem solving covering the whole of the Phanerozoic and all major palynomorph groups.

The course will be supported by high quality PowerPoint resources and a set of open access reports and published papers that illustrate concepts and techniques. The course will also provide worked through examples and simple exercises in palynology in exploration including examples of palynology used alongside logs and seismic, palynology calibrated against other fossil groups, palynology calibrated against radiometric dates and Sr isotope values, palynology to create time slices, palynology to fingerprint individual sands and mudstone layers, palynofacies characterisation of mudstone organic matter, and use of palynological assemblages in paleoenvironmental investigation. These worked examples and simple exercises will be supported by high quality resources including real data, images, photographs and sections.

Course Outline

Part A: Characteristics of palynomorph groups used in applied geology, including pollen, spores, dinoflagellates, acritarchs and chitinozoans

  1. Basics of morphology
  2. Stratigraphic ranges of key groups
  3. Paleoenvironmental elements of groups
  4. How palynomorphs are extracted from rocks
  5. Simple exercise using a taxonomic key to identify different forms

Part B: Palynomorph groups in biostratigraphy, correlation and sequence stratigraphy

  1. Key factors and limits in their use
  2. Basin, regional and field scale correlation – how it’s done. With case studies from Tertiary of the Niger Delta, Jurassic of the North Sea, Palaeozoic of the Middle East
  3. Time slice analysis, sequence stratigraphy and palynology
  4. Palaeogeography analysis, calibration by radiometric dating, Sr isotope ratios, and other fossil groups
  5. Exercise in correlation, sequence stratigraphy and dating

Part C: Palynological fingerprinting of sands and mudstone baffles and analogue outcrop palynology and sedimentology

  1. Methods of fingerprinting and the reasons why normal biostratigraphy cannot be used
  2. Case study from the Permian of Jordan and Oman showing how analogue outcrop palynology and sedimentology can contribute to subsurface reservoir understanding in carbon capture and storage

Part D: Palynofacies analysis to understand the origin and character of organic matter in shales

  1. Origin of sedimentary organic matter in shales: preservation and habitat
  2. Techniques in palynofacies including working with δ13C
  3. Palynofacies and shale prospectivity
  4. Exercise in palynofacies analysis

Part E: Palynology, palaeoenvironment and big earth events

  1. Basics of palynology and paleoenvironment
  2. Case study: palynology, the fungal spike, and the PETM

Part F: Limits and pitfalls of palynological data and analysis

  1. Sources and levels of uncertainty and imprecision: radiometric dates, taxonomic blurring
  2. Standardisation of palynological workflows and data

Participants’ Profile

The course is aimed at geological generalists who might use palynological data, for example data contained in consultant palynologists’ reports. It is not aimed at palynologists. Much palynological data and the value added in palynological data is very technical and so a geological generalist needs help in getting the most out of the data and in understanding what palynology can and cannot do. This course bridges that gap between the palynology specialist and the geological specialist working up a play or a prospect, opening up the ‘black box’.


No particular prior knowledge needed beyond normal levels of expertise in stratigraphy. As stated above, the course is aimed at geological generalists who might use palynological data, for example in consultant’s reports. It is not aimed at palynologists.

About the Instructor

Prof Mike Stephenson has over 25 years of experience in applied palynology with over 100 peer-reviewed papers. Mike began his career with a PhD at Sheffield University on the palynology of the Carboniferous-Permian of Saudi Arabia and Oman focusing on the Unayzah and Al Khlata formations with sample material from Saudi Aramco and Petroleum Development Oman. In 2003 Mike along with other industry professionals published a palynological biozonation for the Carboniferous-Permian of Saudi Arabia and Oman which is still in use today and which has helped to elucidate many stratigraphic problems across the Middle East establishing new correlations and relationships within complex glacial and post glacial sequences of a fast-evolving Gondwana region. Following his PhD, Mike worked with all the major companies in the Middle East on sequences from the Ordovician to the Triassic but mainly on the Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian. Mike has published widely quoted reviews of the Permian of the world and is the Vice Chair of the Sub-commission on Permian Stratigraphy. He was also the Editor- in-Chief of the Elsevier scientific journal Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology between 2009 and 2021; has professorships at the universities, Milan (Italy) and Nanjing (China); and was the President of the IUGS Deep-time Digital Earth Programme, 2019 to 2021. For eight years Mike was Director of Science and Technology and then Executive Chief Scientist at the British Geological Survey where he gained deep knowledge of a range of applied geology disciplines including CCS, shale, hydrogeology and geological mapping. His most recent palynology work focuses on the Permian and Triassic of Israel and Jordan. Mike is an experienced trainer with post graduate teaching qualifications. He has taught practical and technical courses on palynology in universities and inhouse in companies, and was a trainer in the regular AASP masterclass series.