Ice Core Demonstration: The Past is the Key to the Future

This lesson has students explore how the gases trapped in ice cores over the last quarter of a century can be used to understand how Earth's atmosphere has changed in the past. 

Context for Use

Project EXTREMES lessons were intended to be stand alone lessons.

ice core image

An ice core. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Ludovic Brucker

Goals Header
What Students Will Do

  • Understand that snow forms into ice on glaciers and ice sheets via compaction.

  • Understand that air bubbles from the atmosphere that are present in the snow become trapped as the snow turns into ice and can be sampled 100,000's of years later.

Teaching Materials

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The students will come to understand how an ice core forms and how they are useful in looking at past atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Activity 1 – Engage (5-10 minutes)  Age of Trapped Carbon Dioxide

Show the students an image of ice core carbon dioxide data.

Activity 2 – Explore (5-10 minutes) Trapping Carbon Dioxide

Students make observations about snow in a sealable bag.

Activity 3 – Explain (5-10 minutes) From Ice in a Bag to Glacier Formation

Have a group discussion about students’ observations.


Illustration of two people high-fiving in a work environment

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