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.

The ONLY climate change lab: What to teach if you only have one lab period to cover climate change

This activity was developed during the Teaching Climate Change Using Ice Core Data workshop, held in June 2008.
Contributed by J. Elmo Rawling 3rd, Elaine Reynolds, Andrea Schilling

Topic: Climate change

Course Type:intro


Group Activity

  1. Assign each group of students an anonymous ice core location, only lat/long is given as a clue to its identity. The ice cores have temperature and CO2 (or any other greenhouse gas, if CO2 is unavailable) data available from 18,000-7000 years ago obtained from the NOAA Paleoclimatology website (more info) .
  2. The data (CO2 and temperature) will be given to the students in an Excel spreadsheet at the beginning of the lab and the students must make a graphical representation of the data to analyze and interpret.
  3. The students also will use the NOAA website and the lat/long that was given to determine where their core is from and when it was collected.
  4. The students will then present all of their data and interpretations to the class.
  5. After the presentations, the groups will use data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center to make a graphical representation of the current available atmospheric CO2 concentrations nearest to their specific location and will compare it to the past levels found in ice cores. 
  6. Students will answer several questions in writing throughout the lab. 


Students should be able to do the following:

  • Understand the link between CO2 (or greenhouse gases) and temperature
  • Be able to work with real data
  • Be confident in searching the NOAA website
  • Create graphs in Excel
  • Perform qualitative analysis and interpretation of the ice core data 


The assessment will be done on the questions answered by each group throughout the lab.

  1. What correlation did you find between temperature and CO2 from the ice core data?
  2. What fluctuations did you see in your core?
  3. How did your data compare with the other groups' data?
  4. What are the implications on future temperatures based on the current CO2 levels seen in your ice core data? 


NOAA website: Paleoclimate home page (more info) ; data access
Excel Program
CDIAC (for modern CO2 levels). Accessed at h