Ice Core Science

Friday 2:10pm-2:30pm E Building 202
Teaching Demonstration Part of Friday


Elizabeth Nagy, Pasadena City College
Louise Huffman, Dartmouth College
Bill Grosser, U.S. Ice Drilling Program


Participants will use conductivity meters to measure the "melted ice core samples", simulating studies that would normally be performed with a mass spectrometer, and graphically analyze this proxy for temperature over the past 500,000 years. There will also be some slides showing the polar science activity, as well as the online resource for these materials.


Do you teach students about earth's cryosphere? You should! The Ice Drilling Program (IDP) Education and Outreach office offers free, downloadable resources ( related to earth's cryosphere and tied to NGSS skills. Several of these activities are used regularly in an undergraduate earth and space science class at Pasadena City College, including an introductory polar science activity comparing the Arctic and Antarctic regions, and a more involved laboratory assignment in which students decode ice core data. The beauty of the ice core activity is that the instructor uses carbonated water to create a variety of carbon dioxide levels in "melted glacial ice", which students measure with conductivity meters. Important outcomes are that students learn how earth's temperature has varied over the past 500,000 years, and how we know this by measuring carbon dioxide trapped in bubbles of ancient ice cores. It leads into a great discussion of natural climate variability versus current global warming. Students also practice important science skills including identifying independent and dependent variables, making careful measurments with tools, and creating a graph and plotting data.


I (E. Nagy) use these activities (created by L. Huffman and B. Grosser) in a laboratory exercise at the end of our oceanography unit, spending the class period focusing on the cryosphere. Students are undergraduate non-majors in a general education course (Earth and Space Science) at a two-year college.

Why It Works

I (E. Nagy) discussed the cryosphere very briefly in this course before using these activities because I did not have any decent laboratory ideas. These activities are very engaging; students enjoy them. They get the students thinking about the earth's polar regions, regions that are somewhat intangible in their minds, and how scientists can infer temperatures of earth as far back as a half million years ago.

Presentation Media

Nagy EER2023 (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 69.9MB Jul8 23)