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Getting to the Core of Climate Change

Mara Carey, Judy Filkins, Karin Leppik, Rolf Tremblay, Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic (TEA)

This is a lab about evidence for past climate change as captured in ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. Students investigate climate changes going back thousands of years by graphing and analyzing ice core data from both Greenland and Antarctica. They use information about natural and human-caused changes in the atmosphere to formulate predictions about Earth's climate.

Activity takes about four to five class periods. Some additional materials are needed for hands-on piece of activity.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Global warming and especially arctic warming is recorded in natural geological and historic records
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4e
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The title of the activity is misleading because it really only addresses past climates, the leap to future climates is not well enough supported in this activity and should not be taken.
  • Educator should not be doing the leap from the paleoclimatic data to the future predictions, however, they might ask, "Based on the trends you saw in the past, how would you anticipate the future climate to be at a certain CO2 ppm level".
  • Intro to greenhouse gas dynamics and the different greenhouse gases addressed in this activity should precede this lesson.
  • Analogy of clay layers versus ice layers has to be made very explicit - ideally educator could bring ice cores in straws or orange juice concentrate container can that were made through multiple freezing cycles in the freezer (tip: color the water).
  • Educator needs to explain to students that gases get trapped in bubbles that are enclosed in the ice.
  • Data should be copied into an Excel spreadsheet so that students can work with it.

About the Science

  • Activity uses well-referenced data sets that are ready to be used by students.
  • Educator needs to have a thorough understanding of past climate change as well as to the human impact on global warming since not much background material is given in the activity.
  • If educator wanted to update the activity, more extensive records from more recently retrieved ice cores are available in the scientific literature, but presented data is sufficient for activity.
  • No guidance for educators is given on leading the discussion for the lead and lag of climate change in Antarctica versus Greenland. If a educator doesn't know the "seasaw concept" of ocean circulation, this discussion on synchronicity between Antarctic and Greenland climate signals should be avoided so as to not confuse the students. More info available at http://depts.washington.edu/isolab/papers/SteigAlley.pdf.

About the Pedagogy

  • Uses real data from Greenland and Antarctic ice cores to engage students in the understanding of past climate change and the methods that are used to study it.
  • Well-crafted activity that includes hands-on component (modeling ice cores) as well as data graphing and interpretation and discussion.
  • Multiple assessment strategies available.
  • Introducing the topic by using a physical model of a layered ice sheet is a nice way to introduce the activity.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Some of the links to the reference sites don't work.

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