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Abrupt Events of the Past 70 Million Years – Evidence from Scientific Ocean Drilling

Mark Leckie, Debbie Thomas, Consortium for Ocean Leadership

In this 6-part activity, students learn about climate change during the Cenozoic and the abrupt changes at the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary (65.5 million years ago), the Eocene/Oligocene boundary (33.9 million years ago), and the Paleocene/Eocene boundary (55.8 million years ago).

Activity with all parts takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 9 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Milankovitch/orbital cycle
About Teaching Principle 1
Other materials addressing 1d
Equilibrium and feedback loops in climate system
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2f
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

  • Can be done in a homework or lab environment.
  • This is a challenging activity with solid science and practical advice on how to use the sediment cores. To do well, it will take 3 to 4 class periods with some homework assignments and require the educator to take time to familiarize her/himself thoroughly with the background material.

About the Science

  • Resource provides a set of activities using detailed data and extensive background material, from high-quality scientific papers, on how to collect and analyze scientific data and samples from deep-sea cores.
  • Part 1 activity data on the composite stable isotope records of oxygen and carbon in deep-sea benthic foraminifers (from the Cenozoic Era - 65 million years ago to present - and the last 5 million years) and on the physical properties of sediment cores are taken from recent research papers and reports. Part 2 focuses on shore-based data and analysis of fossil samples collected from around the time of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55 million years ago.
  • Several diagrams in the section on the Milankovitch cycles are taken from WikiPedia without clear attribution or explanation. More information is available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Milankovitch_Variations.png.

About the Pedagogy

  • Resource is suited to a college-level audience; likely difficult to use in a high school context.
  • Students examine real data from sea floor cores to find physical evidence for the Paleocene/Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55.8 million years ago. Students then use shore-based data, including carbonate content and carbon isotope ratios and benthic oxygen isotope ratios, from 9 different sites around the world to examine the differences between planktic foraminifera and benthic foraminifera around the PETM.
  • Only one of the six parts of the activity involves active learning and observation; the other parts give challenging worksheet-style questions covering important topics.
  • Scaffolding is minimal but suitable for college level.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Outline of activity might be a little confusing with each of the six lessons in a separate PDF document and no clear connections between the individual activities.
  • Articles in this resource are highly technical with a lot of specialized language. Only educators with background in this material will be able to present it effectively.
  • There is no instructor's guide.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS2-2: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

HS-ESS1.B2:Cyclical changes in the shape of Earth’s orbit around the sun, together with changes in the tilt of the planet’s axis of rotation, both occurring over hundreds of thousands of years, have altered the intensity and distribution of sunlight falling on the earth. These phenomena cause a cycle of ice ages and other gradual climate 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.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.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Patterns, Cause and effect

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

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 9

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

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-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

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

HS-P6.1:Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables.

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.

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