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Secrets from the ice

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Imaginative inquiry
Topic: Atmosphere & climate change

Scientists spent 10 years extracting a 3 km and 800,000 year old ice core from Antarctica. Why? In this activity students look at the role of creative thought in interpreting evidence from the ice core. They then devise chemical tests to identify the chemicals in the bubbles in the ice and link these to atmospheric changes.

Published: 22nd January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 7

Learning objectives

What is the role of creative thought in scientific enquiry?
Applying chemical tests for acids, carbon dioxide and oxygen in a new situation.

Try the activity

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11 - 14 (KS3)
ideas and evidence - how scientists work, including the role of creative thought
acids and alkalis QCA 7e - testing for acids
simple chemical reactions QCA 7f - testing for carbon dioxide and oxygen
rocks and weathering 8g - sedimentary layers and fossils

Running the activity

Suggested time: 20 minutes

Suggested starter: Show page 1, which sets the scene. Ask students to suggest why scientists went to so much effort to extract the ice core. Page 1 can be projected or printed onto transparency.

Main activity: Students read page 2, which is in the form of a strip cartoon - you could ask three students to take the roles of the scientists in the cartoon. The purpose of this page is to convey the importance of creative thought in scientific enquiry. Page 2 can be projected or printed onto transparency.
Students then do the task on page 3 in pairs. They devise tests to find out which chemicals are in the bubbles in two sections of the ice core. The test results give scientists clues about what gases were in the atmosphere at the time, and enable scientists to speculate where these gases came from. Each pair needs a copy of page 3, which can be photocopied in colour or black and white.

Possible plenary: Students prepare a one sentence answer to the question 'what can ice layers tell us about how things were in the past?' You could also tell students that the concentration of carbon dioxide in recent ice layers is extremely high - what does this indicate about global warming?

Possible extension:
'Secrets of the ice' on the ASE Science Year CD2 and the ASE website provides linked practical activities and an exciting context.

News links

BBC Science News
The news story including a photo of the ice core.
Time line
A straightforward account of the ice core as a timeline.
Carbon dioxide levels
A graph showing carbon dioxide levels in the ice, indicating that current carbon dioxide levels are the highest for a very long time
Ice cores
For teacher background information about ice cores
US Geological Survey
For teacher background information about ice cores
University of Arizona
Ice core slide show

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Secrets from the ice review

Mar 7th, 2015

5 Star

Excellent resource. Very imaginative.

Reviewer: Lorna johnson

cant find student sheets

Jan 25th, 2015

1 Star

I cannot find the student sheets anywhere? All I can download is the teachers guide. I have done this module before with my grade 7 class but we had all of the sheets printed in folders. I now teach in Asia where curriculums aren't set up and with no access to student sheets I cannot follow the lesson plans which is a real shame as I know my class would enjoy this as previous ones have done.

Reviewer: Mari Taylor

Secrets from the ice review

Oct 21st, 2012

5 Star

Very good

Reviewer: Sarfraz Shah

shoul Wi-Fi be banned

Jan 14th, 2010

5 Star

absolutely great exercise the pupils found it very interesting, good for able students but can be used for slightly able with guidance as it stretches their though process.

Reviewer: Bola Akanho

states of matter

Mar 10th, 2008

5 Star

I relaly like your activities.
Its the first time i have used them in class and they really worjed!

Thank you

Reviewer: Anthea barbara

secrets from the ice

Mar 22nd, 2007

4 Star

for my higher ability year 8s i gave them the equipment to prove that ice contained soot/acid and provided them with soot/dust and acidic ice cubes. it was a good way to build in Sc1 skills by doing it this way. after doing this they were must more forthcoming about other things that might be foiund in the ice cores and how we could test for them

Reviewer: debra johnson


Nov 18th, 2005

5 Star

THis was a great activity to follow up our chemistry tests preparaing and testing for gases. It made the chemsitry more palatable for students. I used this with my low ability year 9 students - we made an ice core for them as well - great idea. Thank you

Reviewer: Mary Oliver