Jump to this Activity »
From Isotopes to Temperature: Working With A Temperature Equation

Dorien McGee, University of South Florida, Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education

In this activity, students will use oxygen isotope values of two species of modern coral to reconstruct ambient water temperature over a four-year period. They use Microsoft Excel, or similar application, to create a spreadsheet of temperature values calculated from the isotope values of the corals by means of an algebraic equation. Students then use correlation and regression techniques to determine whether isotope records can be considered to be good proxies for records of past temperatures.

Activity takes about two lab periods or can be done as a homework assignment. Computer with Excel software is required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 11 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate is complex
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Climate is complex
Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4c
Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
Other materials addressing:
B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
Other materials addressing:
F) Working with models and simulations.
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

  • Forming groups of students (especially pairing students of different level of experiences in Excel) will enhance the effectiveness of the activity.
  • Strong guidance of students is required in order to ensure they don't simply follow the instructions but understand the relevance in terms of paleoclimatology.
  • Include a final discussion on the relevance of what students learned on their understanding of global temperatures.

About the Science

  • The dataset and conversion equation used in this module were contrived though are based on actual datasets and conversion equations used for corals.
  • The spreadsheet is based on the PDB standard and the equation given in the presentation uses SMOW standard. Instructors need to clarify the difference between the standards.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The resource is very sound, and despite being fairly fundamental in paleoclimatology it often can confuse students. However, here it is clearly presented and explained, with relevant background and application information.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity is designed to improve students' quantitative skills.
  • Activity relies heavily on Excel use, and students need to very comfortable with formulas in Excel to follow the activity.
  • Modeling aspect of this activity may be engaging for some students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Instructor version is available by request to the author (a link is provided).
  • PowerPoint and associated files are available for download from the activity sheet.
  • Even though these PowerPoint slides are very dense, they are given as a .ppt file and could be broken up and modified easily.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS2.A3:The geological record shows that changes to global and regional climate can be caused by interactions among changes in the sun’s energy output or Earth’s orbit, tectonic events, ocean circulation, volcanic activity, glaciers, vegetation, and human activities. These changes can occur on a variety of time scales from sudden (e.g., volcanic ash clouds) to intermediate (ice ages) to very long-term tectonic cycles.

HS-ESS3.D2:Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.4: Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns.

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C5.4: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems.

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

Science and Engineering Practices: 11

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.6:Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the school laboratory, research facilities, or field (e.g., outdoor environment) with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on a model or theory.

HS-P3.1:Plan an investigation or test a design individually and collaboratively to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence as part of building and revising models, supporting explanations for phenomena, or testing solutions to problems. Consider possible confounding variables or effects and evaluate the investigation’s design to ensure variables are controlled.

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P4.2:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

HS-P4.4:Compare and contrast various types of data sets (e.g., self-generated, archival) to examine consistency of measurements and observations.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.5:Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.2:Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.

Jump to this Activity »