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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.

Movie courtesy of the NSF.

Coral for Studying Past Climate

Climate scientists use "proxy data" to study climates of the past, before humans with thermometers began keeping temperature records. These "proxies" include tree rings, layers within ice cores pulled from glaciers and ice sheets, growth layers in coral, and layers of sediments from the bottoms of lakes and oceans.

Each year, coral colonies add a new layer of growth onto exiting coral "skeletons". Climate scientists can deduce data about past climates from these annual growth rings in much the same way they look at tree rings. The proportions of oxygen isotopes in the coral tell us about ocean temperatures when that coral was formed. Climate data from coral is the only major source of paleoclimate information from Earth's tropical regions. Oceanographers use special tools to extract cores from coral skeletons which they study in their labs.

Right-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) here to download a copy of this video in QuickTime format.

Last modified September 9, 2010 by Randy Russell.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA