Teaching Notes

Example Output

The sample map, shown right, displays icons at the locations of the Antarctic Peninsula core sites featured in this chapter.

Grade Level

This chapter is suitable for students in grades 9-16.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to:

  • list several methods for determining past climate conditions;
  • download, install and use GeoMapApp;
  • construct a variety of geospatial data visualizations;
  • describe the climate trend of Antarctica using pollen data;
  • compare pollen records of different locations; and
  • predict the timing of North American glacial retreat using pollen data.


Access to Antarctic research affords new opportunities for teachers and students to improve their understanding of a range of topics including: climate change timing and intensity during the past 34 million years, use of microfossils to infer past vegetation, and application of GIS tools to understand the physical environment. Teaching with data and using technology prepares students for real world tasks and helps develop critical thinking and evaluation skills central to science.

Background Information

Most students have likely used geospatial visualizations like Google Earth and will be somewhat familiar with parts of the GeoMapApp toolbar but will need to recognize the different nature of the images shown on the GeoMapApp screen. These data visualizations are much more like other types of maps they may have used than the satellite and aerial photos that make up Google Earth imagery. A basic understanding of latitude and longitude and map projections is needed.

Students may also need to be reminded of the role of pollen in plant reproduction and its distinct morphology. Students may also need to review the geologic time scale and should be encouraged to download one of the free geologic time scale applications to their mobile device.

Suggested mobile apps include:

  • Earth Observer
  • Earth Viewer

A great resource to review is the short pollen talk by Jonathan Drori available on YouTube. In this TED talk, Dr. Drori introduces pollen core research and how it is used in a variety of disciplines. 

Additional Background Information on Climate Change, Paleoclimate, and Ocean Drilling

Key Words

climate change, sediment core, diversity, succession, pollen, GeoMapApp, CO2, foundation species, geologic time, ice sheets, Antarctica, paleo-vegetation reconstruction, paleo-climatology, palynology

Instructional Strategies

To engage students, the teacher may want to begin by holding up a sedimentary rock and a large flower such as a lily. Questions to pose could include: "What do these things have to do with each other?"; "What is the difference between living and non-living?" or; "What do rocks and plants have to do with climate?" Teachers may also want to query students knowledge on the modern Antarctic environment.

Before beginning this chapter, teachers should take time to familiarize themselves with GeoMapApp. Getting to know GeoMapApp can be done by trial and error interactions with the toolbar or by utilizing the tutorials under the education menu, or by utilizing other chapters in the Earth Exploration Toolbook. Several relevant chapters are listed in the Going Further section of this chapter.

Students can be organized into small groups or work independently, but it is important that they have the opportunity to share their findings and imagery. This can be done by hosting a poster session at the end of the series of investigations. Students should write captions for the figures they create and include citations where possible. To this end it is valuable to have printed copies of several relevant publications on hand for student review. There is a list of publications and websites below.

Students should also be encouraged to record their results in written form. Answers to prompts throughout the chapter can be kept in a word processing document or in student journals.

Assessment Strategies

Pre-Activity Assessment
The following questions can be used to gauge student understanding prior to completion of this chapter:

  • How do scientists know past climate conditions?
  • How is pollen used in climate reconstruction?
  • What is the significance of the "nearest living relative"?
  • When did the North American Ice sheet retreat?
  • What was Antarctic like in the past? What is the time scale?

Post-Activity Assessment 
Upon completion of this chapter students will be assessed on the following:

  • Quality of geospatial imagery illustrating distribution and abundance of key plant groups over geologic time scales.
  • Ability to communicate data support for inferences about past climate change.

Content Extensions

Teachers may choose to extend any of the activities outlined in this chapter. Each part contains a section of suggestions for further investigation. For example, environmental science students may use the pollen % abundance data in Part 2 and 3 to calculate diversity at different time periods using a simple statistical approach such as Simpson's Diversity Index. Geography students can export GeoMapApp images into other software programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to add illustrations of plant groups or to add shading, text, or other objects to their maps. If desired, notes and figures can be used to write a scientific report as a culminating project.

Science Standards

The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter:

  • 12ASI1.1 Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.
  • 12ASI1.3 Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • 12ASI1.6 Communicate and defend a scientific argument.
  • 12DESS3.2 Geologic time can be estimated by observing rock sequences and using fossils to correlate the sequences at various locations. Current methods include using the known decay rates of radioactive isotopes present in rocks to measure the time since the rock was formed.
  • 12DESS3.3 Interactions among the solid earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the earth system.

Geography Standards

The following U.S. National Geography Standards are supported by this chapter:

The World in Spatial Terms
1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context.
3. The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface.
4. The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth's surface.

Time Required

3-4 class periods

Other Resources

Teaching Resources

To save time, the Microsoft Excel file used in Part 2 can be downloaded ahead of time and distributed to computers before class.
To download the file right-click (PC) or control-click (Mac) this file. Part 2 Pollen averages (Excel 17kB Apr19 13)

Selected Resources for Teachers

Anderson, J. B., Warny, S., et al., 2011. Progressive Cenozoic cooling and the demise of Antarctica's last refugium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 108, no 28. 11356-11360.

Hammer, W.R., Hickerson, W.J., 1994. A crested theropod dinosaur from Antarctica. Science, v264, no 5160, 828-830.

William F. Ruddiman, 2008. Earth's Climate; Past and Future, New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 381 pgs.

Spear, R.W., M.B. Davis, and L.C.K. Shane. 1994. Late Quaternary history of low- and mid-elevation vegetation in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Ecological Monographs, 64, 85-109.

Warny et al., 2009. Palynomorphs from a sediment core reveal a sudden remarkably warm Antarctica during the middle Miocene. Geology, 37, no10, p955-958.