EarthLabs for Educators > Climate Detectives

Climate Detectives: Unit Overview

The lab activities in this module were developed by Jeff Lockwood of TERC and Alison Mote of the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders for the EarthLabs project.

NOTE TO USERS: This module is still under development. Content has not yet been finalized for classroom use.


Why study Earth's climate history

Earth's climate has changed, sometimes dramatically, in the past. If you had lived on the island of Manhattan about 20,000 years ago, you would have found yourself living during an ice age. You would see nothing but an expanse of ice as you pitch your tent on a 4,000-foot thick slab of ice that covers the island and extends for miles in all directions. But what does it matter? Why is it important to understand Earth's climate history?

Understanding the influence of humans on the climate system.

The paleoclimatic record also allows us to examine the causes of past climate change. Looking into Earth's climate history can help scientists determine how much of the 20th century warming may be explained by natural causes, such as solar variability, and how much may be explained by human influences.

Investigating the causes of climate change.

The paleoclimatic record also allows us to examine the causes of past climate change. Looking into Earth's climate history can help scientists determine how much of the 20th century warming may be explained by natural causes, such as solar variability, and how much may be explained by human influences.

Improving the ability of climate models to simulate future climate change.

Most state of the art climate prediction is accomplished using large sophisticated computer models of the climate system. A great deal of research has been focused on ensuring that these models can simulate most aspects of the modern, present-day, climate. It is also important to know how these same models simulate climate change. This can be accomplished by comparing simulations of past climate change with observations from paleoclimatic records. So in a real sense, paleoclimatology helps us improve the ability of computer models predict what future changes in climate we might expect.


The study of paleoclimate provides vital information about past, present, and future climate change.

Why use this set of lessons?

The ultimate question for students regarding events that have occurred throughout the Earth's history is "How do we know?" Students will discover how we know what we know about the Earth's past climate through a series of learning activities in which they will work collaboratively, mimicking scientific research groups on the JOIDES Resolution. Using data collected from Expedition 341, students will explore how climatic changes are recorded in the rock record, learn about careers associated with the IODP, and gain an appreciation for the ocean drilling process, and data collection methods. Ultimately, students will assume the role of scientists on board the JOIDES Resolutionas they support their ideas with evidence.

In this unit, students analyze sediment cores and search for clues about Earth's past climate history. Every effort has been made to have students experience what it's like to join a scientific expedition and work collaboratively to do an investigation that focuses on uncovering clues to past climate change. They travel along with a group of scientists who extracted sediment cores from several locations along the south coast of Alaska in the summer of 2013. Students conduct hands-on lab activities, watch videos, analyze the actual data from the expedition, consult maps and graphs, explore online interactives, all of which will help them gather evidence to determine when major climate events occurred in the past, and how these events connect with changes in climate today, and in the future.

Key Questions addressed by this unit include:


Before starting this unit

  1. Read the Lab Overviews section, which identifies all of the materials you'll need to gather and provides a quick scope and sequence of the unit.
  2. If you have not already done so, please read the Climate Series Introduction.

Resources

The resources below provide important background information relevant to this module and to the entire set of Climate EarthLabs modules.


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