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.

Bring it home: Evidence of abrupt climate change

This activity was developed during the Teaching Climate Change Using Ice Core Data workshop, held in June 2008.
Contributors: Laurel Godell, Jeff Niemitz, Dallas Rhodes, Cathy Whitlock, Kathy Ellis


Topic: Abrupt climate change evidence from pollen and ice cores

Course level: Introductory


Description of activity:

  1. Learning the data proxy - learn basics of pollen (Atlas of Relations Between Climatic Parameters and Distributions of Important Trees and Shrubs in North America, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1650 A&B)
  2. Data base searching (NOAA Paleoclimatology home page (more info) and data access (more info)

    • Search for pollen sites that have the right time scale and good (responsive) records
    • Download and plot data for top-15 types pollen.
    • Print screen to have hard copy of graphs.
  3. Download temperature data from Greenland cores and maybe Southern Hemisphere core
    • Plot data (temperature against time) relative temperature
  4. Data analysis
    • Compare timing of major temperature change with pollen record
    • Look at abrupt changes in plant community
    • Describe timing and magnitude of changes.
  5. Data interpretation and synthesis
    • How fast does vegetation adjust to climate? 100 km per century

Learning goals and outcomes

  • Locating data
  • Learning plotting skills
  • Interpreting the data
  • Comparing two data sets.
  • Synthesizing the data; comparison between two data sets
    • Multiple records give us the same info
    • Younger Dryas was a global event
    • Some data sets don't show change
  • Relationships between geographically separated areas 


Students will discuss results from variety of geographic locations

  • Student realize the complexity of climate change and ecological response
  • Describe a vegetation history by looking at a pollen diagram
  • Know that a great quantity of data on climate change exists for locations around the world

Be able to describe in writing the larger implications of what they have learned.

  • Expand time scale of understanding
  • Know the timing and magnitude of abrupt climate change
  • Have a context for the climate change that is occurring now.