Ice Core Clues

Grade Level: 6-12

Source: American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Activity developed by AGI.


Ice cores—long cylinders of ice drilled from ice sheets in Greenland, Antarctica, and other places—contain many clues to what happens on Earth. These cores are about 10 cm in diameter and hundreds of meters long. Scientists can analyze the particles in the cores and the gases trapped in air bubbles in the ice to find out lots of things. For example, how has Earth’s global temperature fluctuated in the past? When were there major volcanic eruptions? And when was there radioactive fallout?

In this investigation, your group will specialize in researching one type of clue we can get from studying ice cores. Then you will share your information with your class to build up a more complete picture of what we can learn about Earth’s past through ice cores.



  1. You will be working in small groups for this investigation. Your teacher will put the Ice Core Clue Cards in a deck and allow one person from each group to pick a card, sight unseen (face down).
  1. The job of your group is to research what you can learn from ice cores on your Ice Core Clue Card and find out the following:
  1. Use reliable science web sites, classroom resources, and the materials in the Earth Science Week 2009 Toolkit to research your ice core clue. Ask your teacher if you need help on how to decide which web sites have accurate and reliable information on ice cores.
  1. When you are finished with your research, create a presentation showing what you found out. Your teacher will organize time for each group to share.
  1. After all groups have shared their information, work as a whole class to decide:

* Your teacher can make these ahead of time by taping photographs to 4” X 6” cards with the names of the Ice Core Clues on them. Pictures for each card can be found on the Earth Science Week web site: (link to be added later).