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An abrupt global climate change event in Earth history- Evidence from the ocean

Kevin Theissen, SERC, On the Cutting Edge

This activity is a research project in which students explore and synthesize key paleoceanographic evidence for the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) as found in marine sediment cores collected and analyzed during Ocean Drilling Program Leg 208 (Walvis Ridge).

Activity takes two 3-hour labs plus out-of-class time over a multi-week span. It also requires access to GeoMap App and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator software.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 2 Science and Engineering Practices

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

Energy Literacy

The effects of changes in Earth's energy system are often not immediately apparent.
Other materials addressing:
2.7 Effects of changes in Earth's energy system .

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 Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) can be an engaging topic for students because it is an example of warming that is comparable to what we are experiencing today. The comparison of these two phases of warming can yield a fruitful exploration on the mechanics, rate, and impacts of climate change. Addressing the topic in this way can show the value of using paleoclimate to understand today's climate.
  • A summary of the comparison of the PETM and today can be found on the Skeptical Science website: http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-rising-ten-times-faster-than-petm-extinction.html.
  • Teaching tips are included in the activity overview.

About the Science

  • This is a capstone project in an intermediate-level college course and contains in-depth science and analysis. Students work with original data from marine sediment cores to interpret the paleoclimate during the the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. This event (also called the PETM) is used as an analog to today's climate change because there was large-scale, rapid addition of CO2 to the atmosphere and significant atmospheric warming.
  • Geochemical data for the PETM project date to 2005.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This excellent exercise asks students to compile data in a manner that is common to paleoceangraphers, and asks them to make their own interpretations of that data. This allows students to practice valuable skills.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students compile and correlate data from five drilling sites in the South Atlantic Ocean. They examine the percentage of calcium carbonate, magnetic susceptibility, and carbon isotopes, along with core photos and the lithology from the core log. Using the information and techniques they have learned in class, they construct a paleoclimate history and create a professional-quality poster to display their results.
  • This activity serves as a capstone project and sets high expectations for students. Students work in pairs or small groups and are expected to work through real data sets, which can be complex and tedious at times.
  • This project also develops graphical analysis skills and students work with GeoMapApp, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator. Students could also use PowerPoint to make their posters, which is simpler to learn and use.
  • A detailed assessment rubric is included.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • As this activity involves real data and a complex topic, significant support from the educator would likely be necessary. Activity provides helpful advice and insight for coaching students through the difficult parts of the process.
  • Educator works closely with students at the beginning of the project to clarify expectations for project outcomes and poster creation, and to work with required software and datasets.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

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.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

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.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1

Stability and Change

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

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-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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