Teach the Earth > Climate Change > Ideas for Teaching about Paleoclimate > Calibrating the Younger Dryas

This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Calibrating the Younger Dryas

Contributed by: Thom Davis, Greg Wiles, Roger Brown, David Bary

This activity was developed during the Teaching Climate Change from the Geological Record workshop, held in August 2010.
Key words: Radiocarbon dating, abrupt climate change, Younger Dryas, geochronology

Course Type: This exercise is designed for an upper level undergraduate course in Quaternary Studies.

Approximate time: Two hours


This activity is a hands-on investigation involving the need for evaluating radiocarbon ages, the actual act of calibrating radiocarbon ages, and the application of these calibrated radiocarbon ages to the Younger Dryas (YD), an Abrupt Climate Change. The YD is a time of abrupt climate change with a number of controversial hypotheses for its origin.

Following brief lectures on the Younger Dryas and radiocarbon dating, students will do the following:

  1. Research radiocarbon dating at the Beta Analytic website
  2. Research the need for calibrating radiocarbon ages at the Wiki site for why calibration is needed
  3. Calibrate a number of radiocarbon ages using CALIB Radiocarbon Calibration


Questions about output:
  1. How many of the radiocarbon ages yield multiple calibrated age ranges;
  2. How does the calibrated age range vary for each radiocarbon age;
  3. Are there any median probability ages that fall outside of the calibrated age ranges;
  4. Pick one calibration image and describe the character of the curve through this interval.




GISP/GRIP ice core papers in Science on the YD as a rapid climate change event (RCCE)

Firestone, Kennett, et al. papers on the comet hypothesis for the YD

WGBH Nova film "The Last Extinction" (2009)

      Climate, Ecoregions, and the Mammals Who Live in Them »