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Secrets of the Sediments

Ramona Smith, Consortium for Ocean Leadership

In this activity students graph and analyze data from marine sediment cores of the coast of Santa Barbara to predict what the global climate was during the past 160,000 years.

Activity takes one class period.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future. The magnitude and direction of this change is not the same at all locations on Earth.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Environmental observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system. From the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Sun, instruments on weather stations, buoys, satellites, and other platforms collect climate data. To learn about past climates, scientists use natural records, such as tree rings, ice cores, and sedimentary layers. Historical observations, such as native knowledge and personal journals, also document past climate change.
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
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The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
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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

  • Educator could introduce the topic with a video clip about the topic to engage students.
  • Not appropriate for lower middle school or students that have not been introduced to the concept of an isotope.
  • Teacher should reinforce the link between oxygen isotopes and climate and how scientists can use this data to determine what the climate in the past was.

About the Science

  • Activity introduces students to the scientific method of reconstructing past climates via oxygen isotopes in marine sediment cores.

About the Pedagogy

  • Brief data graphing activity with good questions to build the understanding of students about the complex topic of using isotope ratios to understand past climatic conditions.
  • Minimal pedagogic scaffolding but sufficient to carry out the activity and provide the background for the learning.
  • Other activities from Ocean Leadership or within CLEAN collection can complement this lesson.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Short activity with a brief set of data pulled from a scientific publication.
  • Detailed teacher guide includes background information and answers to the questions.

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