<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

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

atomic model john dalton
Alliieyza Reply
Hlw,, I want to join.
what is a normal force
tumelo Reply
normal force is the line that is perpendicular to the surface
normal force is the force exerted to an object by the surface , perpendicular to the surface
what is the formular of energy
Wilka Reply
doesnt it like depend on the type of energy
what does (1s2 2s2 and 2p6) mean?
Ryan Reply
What are the differences between pd and emf?
Santosh Reply
How to calculate magnitude of Friction force
Tanaka Reply
in Newton
in newton
Onother Question?
yes bruh
First of all in wat Grade ae u..?
grde 11
Oka nd hw is the properties of a substance afected by the intermoleculaer forces...
hi guys I m in grade 11 I need help with electrostatics
what is newton
Ndamulelo Reply
look for the x components n y components then after y add the x components separate n y separate then u use the Pythagoras theorem 2 find the resultand
Abigail Reply
Thank you very much
how do I find 🔍 the critical angle
angle of incident and angle of reflection must always approach normal line thats where u will see 90° which is critical point
how to calculate the resultant net force
Luvuyo Reply
how do I determine polar forces
Thandekile Reply
chemical formula for oxygen
Nqobile Reply
how do I draw free body diagram?
Anathi Reply
how to calculate molar mass
molar mass =(element/compound) remember the subscript of an element must be multiplied. eg.get molar mass of H20 Molar mass(H20)=(1×2+16) =18 grams per mol
What is an industrial reaction
Siyanda Reply
how do we calculate workdone
Baraka Reply
work done = force applied × displacement
how to calculate tension
Noluthando Reply

Get the best Siyavula textbooks: gr... course in your pocket!

Source:  OpenStax, Siyavula textbooks: grade 11 physical science. OpenStax CNX. Jul 29, 2011 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11241/1.2
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Siyavula textbooks: grade 11 physical science' conversation and receive update notifications?