Mars for Earthlings > Lesson Modules > In-Class Activity 1- Ice Ages Through Time

Ice Ages Through Time

In-Class Activity 1_Ice Ages & Climate Dynamics

Julia Kahmann-Robinson PhD and Marjorie Chan PhD, University of Utah Department of Geology & Geophysics


Students should:

  • Understanding that climate changes over time.
  • Hypothesize the causes of ice ages on Earth and extrapolate those causes to Mars.


Watch Earth's Paleogeography through time:


The correlation between continent distribution and ice

Ask students the following questions and discuss responses as they watch the YouTube video in Engage:

  1. Do the positions of continents effect whether Earth is in an ice age? Explain why or why not.
  2. What distributions of continents promote ice ages?
  3. What distributions prevent ice ages?
  4. What other factors of ice ages does the distribution of continents effect?


Share the following with students:

Ice ages are periods of low temperature when glacial ice develops in continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers. In Earth's geologic record, large-scale ice ages are related to climate, sea level, tectonics (plate configurations and positions), and Earth orbital parameters. Fluctuations in the amount of insolation (incoming solar radiation) are the cause of high frequency changes in Earth's climate during the Quaternary.


Extreme Ice Survey

Part 1:

View the following Extreme Ice Survey in Iceland with your students:

Ask student the following questions:

1. How much has the glacier retreated in the past 10 years?

2. Why is this glacier different from those in Greenland and the Artic (explained in the movie)?

Explore the Ice Survey website ( What is their purpose and goal?

Part 2:

Visit NASA's Climate Science website:

Click on Glaciers and follow the instructions to compare glacier images over time. Share your


Mars and Ice Ages

1. Ask students whether they think Mars experienced ice ages as well? What is their reasoning?

2. Would the distribution of Mars' features effect whether it is in an ice age or not (consider regions of high relief such as the Tharsis region)?

Ref: If you want additional information, here is a link for a TED talk given by James Balog (Extreme Ice Survey):