Marine Oxygen Isotopes and Changes in Global Ice Volume

This activity was developed for the Teaching About Earth's Climate Using Data and Numerical Models workshop, held in October 2011.
Ben Laabs
SUNY Geneseo
Author Profile


Students explore marine oxygen-isotope data from cores collected by the Ocean Drilling Program. The activity gives students access to real paleoclimate data, develops their skills in organizing and graphing data, and provides an opportunity for students to discover trends in a time series pertaining to long-term ice volume changes.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



The activity is used an introductory geology course for non-science majors. Course is entitled "The Geology of Climate Change and Energy."

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

The students complete a brief pre-lab exercise (available with this exercise) that uses on-line resources to learn about the Ocean Drilling Program and fundamental concepts pertaining to oxygen isotopes.

How the activity is situated in the course

Part of a sequence of exercises that explore paleoclimate records of the Quaternary Period.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Explore marine oxygen isotope records for the past 2 million years.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students build data plots in MS Excel to facilitate graphical analysis. Students interpret trends in the data to understand the sawtooth-shape of the marine-oxygen isotope time series.

Other skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals include exploring the NOAA Paleoclimatology Program website (at least the information relevant to the Ocean Drilling Program), working in groups, and plotting data in MS Excel.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students explore paleoclimate of the Quaternary Period by working with marine oxygen-isotope data from Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) core 677.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students work with data from ODP677 in an Excel spreadsheet, and submit their spreadsheet electronically at the end of the exercise. Students also verify their answers with the instructor and T.A. in class, and are finally evaluated by taking a five question quiz based on the lab exercise.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

NOAA Paleoclimatology Program website

The data used in this exercise were first published by:

Shackleton, N.J., A. Berger, and W.R. Peltier. 1990. An alternative astronomical calibration of the lower Pleistocene timescale based on ODP Site 677. Transactions
of the Royal Society of Edinburgh: Earth Sciences 81:251.