Jump to this Video »
From Mud to Molecules: What Deep Sea Sediments Can Tell Us About Past Climates

Geoffrey Eglington, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

This video documents how scientists, using marine algae, can study climate change in the past to help understand potential effects of climate change in the future.

Video length 4:35 min.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Video supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 10 Disciplinary Core Ideas

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d
Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

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

  • It is common for high school science classes to study cells. This video could be used in conjunction to a unit on cells tied to current events and climate related studies.
  • Core mud samples could be analyzed with students and could teach students about the secrets that lie within. A resource could be used like : http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/fac/CORE_REPOSITORY/RHP1.html where a repository of deep sea sediments is available.

About the Science

  • The video explains how the marine algae Emiliania huxleyi, aka Emilia, responds chemically to temperature changes making different forms of alkenones at different temperatures. Because ocean temperature is a driver of climate, scientists can use proxy temperature differences as measured by alkenones to understand past climate changes.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The video quickly explains an important proxy (without using that word so viewers will not be confused) used in pale oceanography: alkenone-based temperature reconstructions. It makes a fine job illustrating how the changing ratio of triple to double bonds in the lipids is related to change in temperature at the time of E. huxleyi living. The process of collecting long marine cores is well displayed in the video, as well as how scientists collect small amounts for later research.

About the Pedagogy

  • Prerequisite knowledge required due to strong ties to biological processes and the biological pump and climate changes that are linked to a small marine algae.
  • This video would probably fit quite well in a marine biology or oceanography course where students would have greater access to background knowledge needed to understand the science in the video.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Note that all geochemical methods like this one are based on a couple of assumptions that were not alluded to in the video but are important nonetheless; 1) we assume that the ratio of triple to double bonds covaried in the past with temperature as it does today but nobody was around 120,000 years ago to check that, for instance, and 2) it assumes that very little degradation of the alkenones took place in the sediment (which is not necessarily always the case). These assumptions have been well addressed in the literature. Nonetheless, I always like to address uncertainties and assumptions with my students. If I were to show this video, I would make mention of the two points above.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Video supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 10

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

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-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS2.D2:Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen.

HS-ESS2.D3:Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.

HS-ESS2.E1:The many dynamic and delicate feedbacks between the biosphere and other Earth systems cause a continual co-evolution of Earth’s surface and the life that exists on it.

HS-LS1.C1:The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus released oxygen.

HS-LS1.C4:As a result of these chemical reactions, energy is transferred from one system of interacting molecules to another. Cellular respiration is a chemical process in which the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and new compounds are formed that can transport energy to muscles. Cellular respiration also releases the energy needed to maintain body temperature despite ongoing energy transfer to the surrounding environment.

HS-LS2.B3:Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important components of the carbon cycle, in which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes.

HS-PS3.D2:The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.

Jump to this Video »