The Earth's Record of Climate

Kevin Theissen

University of St. Thomas
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


In this course students explore the Earth's climate system and the climatic changes that have occurred during the history of the planet. Students get a hands-on introduction to the collection, analysis,and interpretation of climate data in laboratory sessions and in-class activities.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climate Change, Climatology , Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change
Resource Type: Course Information:Goals/Syllabi
Special Interest: Complex Systems
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level, College Lower (13-14)
Ready for Use: Course Goals Only
Course Type: Intro Level:Global Change
Earth System Topics: Atmosphere, Climate
Topics: Climate
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Atmospheric Science, Environmental Science
Course Size:

30 - 96

Course Context:

This is one of five focused-topic introductory courses offered by our department. The course has no prerequisites and it satisfies the pre-requisite for all intermediate level courses for a geology major. The course has a required weekly two-hour lab meeting. The course has been offered in most academic years since Fall, 2003.

Course Goals:

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Collect and access data from sources such as the internet, analyze these data sets, make interpretations, and make comparisons between different data sets.
  2. Use different types of geological evidence (including sediment and rock types, fossils, and geochemical data) to make an interpretation of the geological and climate-related history of a given region.
  3. Evaluate climate-related arguments and information in scientific articles and the mainstream media.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Goals 1 and 2: Labs and in-class activities have students gather and work with data from accredited climate and paleoclimate data sources. Several activities require students to access, analyze, and interpret data (such ad marine and ice core d18O). This provides students with an introduction to the way earth scientists make interpretations with the various "clues" available to them. Students often work together in lab and in-class activities. A final lab examination challenges students to work in pairs and use the skills they have developed to interpret the paleoclimate history of a realistic (but fictional) region using various types of information.

Goal 3: Throughout the course students are assigned short articles on climate change from the technical literature, from less technical scientific literature (such as Scientific American), and from the mainstream news media. Students are required to give written responses that explore the key ideas in the articles and their thoughts about the content. These readings include material by well-known climate contrarians. We often discuss the readings as a larger group in class.

Skills Goals

  1. Using Excel and other software to work with data.
  2. Effectively using the internet as a source for scientific information.
  3. Working in groups to solve problem.


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