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Overpopulation is a major problem in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in slowing down global warming. As populations grow, their demands on resources (e.g. energy) increase, and so does their production of greenhouse gases.

Ice core drilling - taking a look at earth's past climate

Global warming is a very controversial issue. While many people are convinced that the increase in average global temperatures is directly related to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, others argue that the climatic changes we are seeing are part of a natural pattern. One way in which scientists are able to understand what is happening at present, is to understand the earth's past atmosphere, and the factors that affected its temperature.

So how, you may be asking, do we know what the earth's past climate was like? One method that is used is ice core drilling . Antarctica is the coldest continent on earth, and because of this there is very little melting that takes place. Over thousands of years, ice has accumulated in layers and has become more and more compacted as new ice is added. This is partly why Antarctica is also on average one of the highest continents! On average, the ice sheet that covers Antarctica is 2500 m thick, and at its deepest location, is 4700 m thick.

As the snow is deposited on top of the ice sheet each year, it traps different chemicals and impurities which are dissolved in the ice. The ice and impurities hold information about the Earth's environment and climate at the time that the ice was deposited. Drilling an ice core from the surface down, is like taking a journey back in time. The deeper into the ice you venture, the older the layer of ice. By analysing the gases and oxygen isotopes that are present (along with many other techniques) in the ice at various points in the earth's history, scientists can start to piece together a picture of what the earth's climate must have been like.

One of the most well known ice cores was the one drilled at a Russian station called Vostok in central Antarctica. So far, data has been gathered for dates as far back as 160 000 years!

Case study : looking at past climatic trends

Make sure that you have read the 'Information box' on ice core drilling before you try this activity.

The values in the table below were extrapolated from data obtained by scientists studying the Vostok ice core. 'Local temperature change' means by how much the temperature at that time was different from what it is today. For example, if the local temperature change 160 000 years ago was -9 C, this means that atmospheric temperatures at that time were 9 C lower than what they are today. 'ppm' means 'parts per million' and is a unit of measurement for gas concentrations.

-textbfYears before present (x 1000) Local temperature change ( C) Carbon dioxide (ppm)
160 -9 190
150 -10 205
140 -10 240
130 -3 280
120 +1 278
110 -4 240
100 -8 225
90 -5 230
80 -6 220
70 -8 250
60 -9 190
50 -7 220
40 -8 180
30 -7 225
20 -9 200
10 -2 260
0 (1850) -0.5 280
Present 371


  1. On the same set of axes, draw graphs to show how temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations have changed over the last 160 000 years. Hint: 'Years before present' will go on the x-axis, and should be given negative values.
  2. Compare the graphs that you have drawn. What do you notice?
  3. Is there a relationship between temperature and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide?
  4. Do these graphs prove that temperature changes are determined by the concentration of gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Explain your answer.
  5. What other factors might you need to consider when analysing climatic trends?

Questions & Answers

How do hydrogen and chlorine atoms bond covalently in a molecule of hydrogen chloride?
Tiny Reply
what is the parallel circuit
Philani Reply
how many moles of H2O can be formed if 12,5 moi CH4 reacts with sufficient NH3 and O2
Nomcebo Reply
what atoms form covalent bond
hehe Reply
The combination of two non metals
combined two non-metals 😊
what is a mole
Thandeka Reply
a mole is a measure of large quantities of small entities such as atoms, molecules etc
what does STP stand for?
STP stands for Standard Temperature and Pressure.
A car drives straight off the edge of a cliff that is 54m high. The police at the scene of the accident observed that the point of the impact is 130m from the base of the clif. Calculate the initial velocity of the car when it went ovet the clif.
hanyani Reply
wat happens to current if resistors are in parallel connection
Mosima Reply
more current flows from the source that would flow for any of them individually,so the total total resistance is lower
In the parallel circuit the current is divided among the resistors
what are the isotopes
Tlotlisang Reply
are different types of the same elemant but with different mass or atomic no.
i sotopes are different type of element with same atomic number but different mass number
yes i forgot some details😁
next quetion plz
why don't we insert the negative sign for 5 × 10 - 9 when substituting
Mpho Reply
Why does an enclosed gas exert pressure on the walls of a container
Palesa Reply
State the gay lussacs law
Anna Reply
what is the coefficient of Na in order to balanced the equation?_Na + MgCl2=2NaCl+Mg?
Arcel Reply
the combining power of an element, especially as measured by the number of hydrogen atoms it can displace or combine with.
Dealon Reply
download periodic table from play Store...it will explain everything to u
what are orbitals
Sphe Reply
examples of atoms whose Valence energy levels are not full and more to bond and become more stable
What is a valency
What a lone pairs...
Valency is the number of electrons than an atom must gain, lose or share to achieve noble gas configuration.
what is vacuum
Njabulo Reply
Vacuum, space in which there is no matter or in which the pressure is so low that any particles in the space do not affect any processes being carried on there. It is a condition well below normal atmospheric pressure and is measured in units of pressure (the pascal).

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Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 11 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Jul 29, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11241/1.2
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