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Vostok Ice Core: Excel (Mac or PC)

Professor Stephanie Pfirman, Barnard College. Based on data of J. Chapellaz, Laboratoire de Glaciologie et Geophysique de l'Environment, Grenoble. Archived at: Lamont-Dohert Earth Observatory (more info) . Starting Point page organized by R.M. MacKay.
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This page first made public: Sep 7, 2006

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students use Excel to graph and analyze Vostok Ice core data (more info) (160,000 years of Ice core data from Vostok Station). Data includes ice age, ice depth, carbon dioxide, methane, dust, and deuterium isotope relative abundance (dD). Students use the equation:

Temperature (deg-C)=-55.5+(dD + 440)/6 to infer temperatures from dD.

This is a complete activity that requires a working knowledge of Excel (see teaching notes and tips).

Learning Goals

  • Learn about ice cores and what they can tell us about past atmospheric conditions.
  • Learn about past atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and CH4.
  • Learn about the climate and ice age cycle for past 160,000 years.
  • Transfer text data into Excel.
  • Use Excel to make and analyze graphs and to perform simple calculations.

Context for Use

This activity can be as a homework assignment or lab activity in an introductory geoscience course with climate change content. Instructors may want to use the Vostok ice core data to make graphs for interactive lecture or other graphical analysis activities.

Teaching Materials

All required materials are available at The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory link Vostok Ice core data lab (more info)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity requires a working knowledge of Excel and will likely take student three to four hours to complete. It is recommended that you have students do one of the activitites below first.


The activity comes with very specific instructions on the expected lab report format. This provides students with clear expectations and can be used instructors to help assess student performance.

References and Resources

  • The web site Vostok data from WDC has additional background and more years of data (420,000 years) for those interested in longer records. This might be useful for follow-up discussion in lecture.
  • Worldclimate Site for mean temperature and precipitation. Type in Vostok or any other city and you get back temperature and precipitation climatology.
  • NASA GISS (more info) surface temperature graphs and data.


Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climate Change:Paleoclimate records, Geoscience:Geology:Geochemistry:Stable Isotopes, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Atmospheric gases, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change:Paleoclimate records

Resource Type

Activities:Lab Activity

Special Interest

Data, models, or simulations:Data, Quantitative:Quantitative Skills

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use, Meets Peer Review Standard:Anonymous Peer Review

Earth System Topics

Climate, Atmosphere, Solid Earth:Earth Materials


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Atmospheric Science, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geochemistry