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.

This activity was developed during the workshop, Teaching Climate Change: Insight from Large Lakes, held in June 2012.

Using lake core data to show human environmental impacts

by Ester Sztein, Board on International Scientific Organizations, National Academy of Sciences
William Sharkey, UW Sheboygan
Kathryn Szramek, Drake University

Topic: Using lake core data to show human environmental impacts

Course Type: Introductory level: geography, geology, environmental science, ecology

Learning Goals

Students should be able to do the following:

  • Make observations of aerial photos and identify natural features and anthropogenic landscape alterations.
  • Make lacustrine core observations and create a core description.
  • Have a basic understanding of the chemical, biological, and geological processes that occur in lakes.
  • Develop an understanding of temporal changes in the landscape.
  • Correlate landscape-level observations with lacustrine core data.


The instructor:
  • Provides readings or a lecture on interpreting aerial photos.
  • Provides guidance in interpreting the processes that underlie the features that are observed within a lake core.
  • Provides comparative historical geographic data on land use, population changes, and urban development.
  • Provides aerial photos or topographic maps from at least two times frames of a lake region that has been heavily impacted by anthropogenic forces. Images must be of a lake for which you have a modern core sample that will be used for the exercise.
  • Provides a large print out of a modern core sample image (these can be retrieved from LacCore or Coreref) for group analysis work
  • Provides an interpretation using the data and materials to develop a story linking the anthropogenic changes seen on the surface to features of the core.
  • Compare aerial photos and/or topographic maps from different time frames.
  • Study photos or maps and identify the various natural and anthropogenic features that can be seen.
  • Determine the various landscape changes that have happened over time and discuss their potential impacts on the larger landscape and lake.
  • Study and describe features in the core and come up with possible reasons for their presence based on information derived from readings and lecture.
  • Correlate landscape changes over time to the features seen in the core.
  • Present their interpretations to the class.


Students demonstrate in their presentations an understanding of how anthropogenic changes to landscapes can be represented in lake core features over time.


Landscape images:

  • Google Earth
  • USGS topo maps- download current and historic topographic maps. Recent maps have multiple data layers including the ortho photo.

Lake Cores: