Antarctica and Neogene Global Climate Change

Kate Pound, St. Cloud State University; Larry Krissek, Ohio State University; Kristen St. John, James Madison University (; Megan Jones, North Hennepin Community College; Mark Leckie, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Author Profile
Initial Publication Date: July 24, 2015


This exercise set introduces students to Antarctica paleoclimatology in the Neogene. Students investigate geographic, glacial, and geologic data from Antarctica and apply geologic reasoning to propose the best location to drill cores to recover a target stratigraphic interval of paleoclimatic significance.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



Mid to upper level undergraduate courses in sedimentology, stratigraphy, climate change, historical geology, and paleoclimatology.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

None required, but prior exposure to the following topics would be helpful: basic knowledge of rock types, basic understanding of geologic time scale, basic math skills, general stratigraphic principles, simple map and graph reading skills, utility of oxygen-isotope stratigraphy, knowledge of what a sediment core is.

How the activity is situated in the course

It is a 3-part exercise sequence. This has been used in a sedimentology-stratigraphy course. Some parts can be assigned as homework as pre-class assignments. This exercise can stand alone, but also sets the stage for a more detailed investigation of two sediment cores retrieved from the floor of McMurdo Sound by the Antarctic Geologic Drilling Project (ANDRILL) in 2006 and 2007.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Goal: to investigate the status and role of Antarctica in Neogene climate change. This exercise also sets the stage for evaluating recent Antarctica coring results from the ANDRILL program

Objectives: After completing this exercise students should be able to:

  1. Describe general global climate conditions during the Cenozoic.
  2. Assess the quality and quantity of data on Cenozoic climate history from the Antarctic region; for example, describe the stratigraphic completeness and spatial distribution of sampling sites for the Neogene in and around Antarctica.
  3. Interpret simple geologic maps and cross sections, and describe the geology, glaciology, and geography of the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
  4. Integrate data to propose selected drill sites to meet scientific objectives and logistical and cost

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Making observations; recognizing trends; plotting data; making hypotheses and predictions; interpreting data from diagram, tables, and maps; integrating and drawing broad conclusion, recognizing and dealing with scientific uncertainty.

Other skills goals for this activity

Working with real data, working from multiple perspectives; written communication; making persuasive and well supported arguments.

Description of the activity/assignment

This investigation introduces students to Antarctica paleoclimatology in the Neogene. In Part 1, students examine the Ceonzoic marine oxygen isotope curve, interpret global climate conditions from this curve, and assess the validity of paleoclimate interpretations based on the global distribution of sediment cores. In Part 2 students become familiar with the geography and geologic units of the Ross Sea region of Antarctica and review or build knowledge of southern hemisphere seasons, sea-ice, ice-shelves, and the challenges associated with obtaining a sediment core from the floor of McMurdo Sound. Students also interpret simple geologic maps, cross sections, and the geologic time scale, in order to provide a rational for selecting drill sites in McMurdo Sound. In Part 3 students review the existing data from sediment cores in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica and use the knowledge gained in Parts 1 and 2 to identify a target stratigraphic interval
and select two drill sites.

This exercise also sets the stage for evaluating the two sediment cores retrieved from the floor of McMurdo Sound by the Antarctic Geologic Drilling Project (ANDRILL) in 2006 and 2007. Evaluation of the ANDRILL core is undertaken in exercise unit titled "Interpreting Antarctic Sediment Cores".

Determining whether students have met the goals

The following questions could be used to assess student learning following completion of this exercise set:
  1. Explain how the oxygen isotope curve is used to interpret past global climates.
  2. Describe the geology, glaciology, and geography of the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.
  3. How is the geology, geography and climate different in Antartica than where you live?
  4. In general, would a thinner or thicker sedimentary sequence provide a more complete record of geologic history of a region? Why?
  5. Summarize the pros and cons of using the existing drillcore databases for global climate interpretations/Antarctic ice volume.
  6. Summarize what we think we know (i.e., the paradigm of thought) about the history of ice in Antarctica, and how we know it.
  7. What is the rationale for obtaining a new core that captures the Neogene Antarctica sedimentary sequences?
  8. Where would you recommend scientists obtain this new core and why?

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

This exercise is an open access chapter from: St. John, K., Leckie, R.M., Pound, K., Jones, M., and Krissek, L., 2012. Reconstructing Earth's Climate History: Inquiry-based Exercises for Lab and Class. Wiley-Blackwell, 485p;

For other open access chapters from this book go to:

References used in constructing this exercise include:

ANDRILL Science Team, 2007, Studies from the ANDRILL, McMurdo Ice Shelf project, Antarctica,Initial Science Report on AND-1B. Terra Antarctica, vol. 14, No. 3, 328 p.

Barker, P.F., Kennett, J.P., et al., 1990. Proc. ODP, Sci. Results, 113: College Station, TX (Ocean Drilling Program). doi:10.2973/

Barrett, P.J. (Ed.), 1986. Antarctic Cenozoic history from the MSSTS-1 drillhole, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. NZ DSIR Bulletin, v. 237, 174 p. Science Information Publishing Center, Wellington, New Zealand.

Barrett, P.J. (Ed.), 1989. Antarctic Cenozoic history from the CIROS-1 drillhole. New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial research Bulletin 245, 254 pp.

Barron, J., Larsen, B., et al., 1991. Proc. ODP, Sci. Results, 119: College Station, TX (Ocean Drilling Program). doi:10.2973/

Cape Roberts Science Team, 1998a, Summary Results from CRP-1, Cape Roberts Project,Antarctica, Terra Antarctica, vol. 5, 138 p.
Cape Roberts Science Team, 1998b, Initial Report on CRP-3, Terra Antarctica, vol. 5, 187 p.

Cape Roberts Science Team, 1999, Studies from the Cape Roberts Project, Ross Sea, Antarctica – Initial Report on CRP-2/2A, Terra Antarctica, vol. 6, 173 p., with supplement.

Cape Roberts Science Team, 2000, Studies from the Cape Roberts Project, Ross Sea, Antarctica– Initial Report on CRP-3, Terra Antarctica, vol. 7, 209 p., with supplement.

Clark, P.U., Pisias, N.G., Stocker, T.F., and Weaver, A.J., 2002. The role of the thermohaline circulation in abrupt climate change. Nature, 415, p.863-869.

Davey, F.J., Barrett, P.J., Cita, M.B., Van der Meer,J.J.M., Tessensohn,F., Thomson, M.R.A., Webb, P.N., and Woolfe, K.J., 2001. Drilling for Antarctic Cenozoic Climate and Tectonic History at Cape Roberts, Southwestern Ross Sea, EOS, 82, p. 585 & 589-590.
(cited 2008-07-15)

Domack, E.W., Jull, A.J.T., and Nakao, S., 1991. Advance of East Antarctic outlet glaciers during the Hypsithermal; implications for the volume state of the Antarctic ice sheet under global warming. Geology, v. 19; no. 11; p. 1059-1062.

DVDP Bulletin Series prepared at the Dept. of Geology, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb Illinois. (accessed 2008-07-15)

Hambrey, M.J., and McKelvey, 2000. Major Neogene fluctuations of the East Antarctic ice sheet: Stratigraphic evidence from the Lambert Glacier region. Geology, v. 28, no. 10, p. 887-890.

Hambrey, M.J., Webb, P/-N., Harwood, D.M., et al., 2003. Neogene glacial record from the Sirius Group of the Shackleton Glacier region, central Transantarctic Mountains, Antarctica.

Geological Society of America Bulletin, 115 (8), 994–1015.
Hambrey, M.J., and Hubbard, B. The Antarctic Ice Sheet:

Harwood, D.M., Florindo, F., Talarico, F., et al., 2008–2009. Background to the ANDRILL Southern McMurdo Sound Project, Antarctica," from Studies from the ANDRILL, Southern McMurdo Sound Project, Antarctica, Initial Science Report on AND-2A 15:1.

Harwood, D.M., Florindo,F., Levy, R.H., Fielding, C.R., Pekar, S.F., Speece, M.A., and SMS Science Team, 2005, ANDRILL Southern McMurdo Sound Scientific Prospectus, ANDRILL Contribution 5, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, 29p. (Accessed 2008-07-15)

Harwood, D.M., Lacy, L., and Levy, R.H., (eds.), 2002. Future Antarctic Margin Drilling: Developing a Science Program Plan for McMurdo Sound. ANDRILL Contribution 1, University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Available at] (Accessed 2008-07-15)

Kennett, J.P., 1977. Cenozoic Evolution of Antarctic Glaciation, the circum-Antarctic ocean, and their impact on global paleoceanography. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 82, p.3843-3860.

Kennett, J.P., 1978. The development of planktonic biogeography in the Southern Ocean during the Cenozoic. Marine Micropaleontology, vol. 3, p. 301-345.

Kennett, J.P., and Shackleton, N.J., 1976, Oxygen isotopic evidence for the development of the psychrosphere 38 Myr ago. Nature, vol. 260, no. 5551, p 513-515.

Kennett, J.P., and Shackleton, N.J., 1976, Critical development in evolution of deep-sea waters 38 m.y. ago; oxygen isotopic evidence from deep-sea sediments. EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, vol. 57, no. 4, p. 256.

Kyle, P.R., & Cole, J.W., 1974. Structural Control of volcanism in the McMurdo Volcanic Group, Antarctica. Bulletin of Volcanology, vol. 38, p. 16-25.

Ivany, L.C., van Simaeys, S., Domack, E.W., and Samson, S.D., 2006. Evidence for an earliest Oligocene ice sheet on the Antarctic Peninsula Geology, v. 34, no.5, p.377-380.

Naish, T., Powell,R., Barrett, P., Horgan, H., Dunbar, G., Wilson, G., Levy, R., Robinson, N., Carter, L., Pyne, A., Bannister, S., Balfour, N., Damaske, D., Henrys, S., Kyle, P., and Wilson, T., ANDRILL McMurdo Ice Shelf Scientific Prospectus, ANDRILL Contribution 4,
University of Nebraska – Lincoln, 29p. (Accessed 2008-07-15)

Shackleton, N.J., and J.P. Kennett, 1975. Paleotemperature history of the Cenozoic and the initiation of Antarctic glaciation: Oxygen and Carbon isotope analyses in DSDP Sites 277, 279 and 281, in J.P. Kennett and R.E. Houtz et al., Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project, Volume 29, Washington, U.S. Government printing Office, p.743-756.

Shevenell, A.E., Kennett, J.P., and D.W. Lea, 2004, Middle Miocene Southern Ocean Cooling and Antarctic Cryosphere Expansion. Science, 305, 1766-1770.

Thomas, E., 2008. Descent into the Icehouse, Geology, v. 36, no.2, p. 191-192.

Warren, G., 1969. Geology of the Terra Nova Bay-McMurdo Sound Area, Victoria Land. Antarctic Map Folio Series 12, Geology, Sheet 14, American Geographical Society, New York.

Webb, P.N., 1990. The Cenozoic history of Antarctica and its global impact. Antarctic Science, v.2, p. 3-21.

Wise, S. W., Jr., Schlich, R., et al., 1992. Proc. ODP, Sci. Results, 120: College Station/TX (Ocean Drilling Program). doi:10.2973/

Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan,L., Thomas, E., Billups, K, 2001. Trends, Rhythyms, and Aberrations in Global Climate 65Ma to Present. Science, v.292, p.686-693.

Zachos, J.C., et al., 2008. An early Cenozoic perspective on greenhouse warming and carbon-cycle dynamics. Nature, 451, 279–83.