Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 30 Issue 01

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Volume 30, No. 1
Pages 104 - 107


HANDS-ON OCEANOGRAPHY • Paleoclimate Reconstruction from Oxygen Isotopes in a Coral Skeleton from East Africa: A Data-Enhanced Learning Experience

By David P. Gillikin , Anouk Verheyden, and David H. Goodwin 
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Purpose of Activity. One of the several benefits of data-enhanced learning experiences that expose students to the process of scientific inquiry and methods of data analysis is to prepare students to address real-world problems such as climate change (Kirk et al., 2014). Because the science behind climate and paleoclimate research is complex, these topics are typically covered in specialized or upper-level courses. Non-science majors should be exposed to climate science so they can better evaluate the world around them and how the media portrays the topic. Here, we present an activity targeting non-major, general education, introductory students that provides a data-enhanced learning experience and illustrates the basics of how paleoclimate can be reconstructed. Specifically, this activity shows how marine paleoclimate records are reconstructed from biological carbonates (corals) and also strengthens students’ basic statistical and spreadsheet skills. Students use published coral isotope data downloaded from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Paleoclimate Database to develop a paleotemperature equation from oxygen isotope data paired with sea surface temperature (SST) data. They then use this equation to hindcast SST back to the beginning of the coral record in 1801. Students are exposed to isotope geochemistry (at a basic level), as well as error analysis, to better understand how paleoclimate records are generated.


Gillikin, D.P., A. Verheyden, and D.H. Goodwin. 2017. Paleoclimate reconstruction from oxygen isotopes in a coral skeleton from East Africa: A data-enhanced learning experience. Oceanography 30(1):104–107, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2017.104.

Supplementary Materials

Lab Handout (103 KB pdf)

• Malindi (2000) Annual O18 Data (3 KB .txt file)


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