Ice Core Investigation

created by Ashley Maloney, UW Oceanography (2012) with support from NASA Global Climate Change Education.


The Ice Core Lab is a fun hands-on supplement to the Natural Variability Unit. A solid understanding of timescales is crucial when talking about climate change; this lab allows students to study changes in Earth’s atmospheric composition on the millennial timescale.

Two versions of this lab are available; the first is a more in-depth version, drafted by Ashley specifically for the UWHS ATMS 211 course. The second version is a NASA general use lab adapted from the UWHS lab.

UWHS Ice Core Lab Lesson Plan (updated April 7, 2013)

NASA General Use Ice Core Lab Lesson Plan (updated April 7, 2013)

Accompanyment Excel File for Ice Core Lab (updated April 3, 2013)

Focus Questions

  1. How do we know about Earth’s climate before the instrumental record?
  2.  What is a proxy?
  3. What timescale do ice cores capture?
  4. Why is it important to understand Earth’s past climate?

Learning Goals

  1. To understand how scientists use ice cores to get information about Earth’s past climate.
  2. To learn what a proxy is by using marbles as a proxy for CO2 concentration.
  3. To become familiar with natural CO2 and temperature variability on millennial timescales by graphing ice core data.
  4. To notice how CO2 and temperature co-vary during glacial-interglacial cycles by graphing the temperature anomaly data alongside the CO2 data.
  5. To compare atmospheric CO2 levels during the past 800,000 years to modern CO2 levels by graphing the instrumental data.

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