Course Syllabus

Ice Cores and Ice Ages

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Semester & Location:

Spring 2024 - DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Core Course Study Tours:

Denmark: Møns Klint, Stevns Klint and South Sjælland

Greenland: Kangerlussuaq

Major Disciplines:

Biology, Environmental Science, and Geology


One course in environmental or earth science at university level. One year of physics or chemistry at university level is recommended.

Faculty Members:

Inger Seierstad

Sune Olander Rasmussen

Time & Place:

Mondays & Thursdays 8:30-9:50, F24-403

Description of course

This course seeks to lay down the fundamental scientific principles behind climate change through an exploration of how climate has changed in the past and a description of how we have made these discoveries. The contextual framework and motivation is that recent trends of climate and other environmental changes, whether due to human activity or natural variability, have focused societal attention on their potential negative impacts on human and environmental health. An understanding of past climate variability and its underlying causes and mechanisms is the basis for separating natural and anthropogenic climate change and for making useful projections of future climate and assessing its impacts. 

To get to this understanding, the course takes a journey from deep time through to the present, describing periods when the climate was strikingly different than it is today and revealing the mechanisms and feedbacks that govern the climate system. 

An amazing journey awaits! Students will travel to Greenland and experience for themselves the role Greenland plays both as a place rich in opportunities to study past climate changes, and as a place particularly sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of modern climatic changes. The tour will be filled with exploration and education. The class will experience a close encounter with the ice sheet, view magnificent wildlife, meet local people, experience cold and incredibly starry winter nights, experience the aurora borealis, and learn about the unique local environment, ecosystems, climate changes, and culture.

While Greenland is a self-governing part of the Danish Kingdom, another particularly Danish dimension shines through in this course via Denmark’s leading role historically and internationally in the study of polar ice cores. The layers of snow that comprise Greenland’s great ice sheet preserve detailed traces and signals of past climate change, where long cores of the glacial ice provide some of the most comprehensive archives of environmental change available to scientists. A visit to the ice core facility at University of Copenhagen and special lectures from our local experts on ice cores will also supplement the course activities.

Learning objectives

At the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Use evidence of past climate change in order to contextualize current and projected climate change,
  • Identify and have a basic understanding of climate feedbacks,
  • Understand the notion of time scales and their importance in describing climate phenomena,
  • Identify and understand a selection of climate change causes,
  • Understand similarities and differences between "natural" and "anthropogenic" climate change,
  • Have a general understanding of the methods applied in paleoclimatology, including different indirect measurements (proxies) and dating methods,
  • Understand climate conditions as a key factor in the evolution of modern civilization,
  • Understand the basis for climate projections and the source of some of the main uncertainties,
  • Identify and understand important issues in historic and present-day Greenland and to appreciate the context of modern Greenland in relation to both the climate and the geopolitical situation in the Arctic region.


Inger Kathrine Seierstad, MSc in Geology-Geophysics (University of Copenhagen). Educated within glaciology at Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, which is a world-leading research group in ice core science. Inger has done research on ice cores, past climate change, volcanic deposits in ice, stable isotopes and stratigraphic dating of ice cores. Participated in ice-core drillings in Greenland and Antarctica multiple times. With DIS since 2018.

Sune Olander Rasmussen, Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen. Sune has a PhD in geophysics from the University of Copenhagen and works with dating and stratigraphic analysis of ice cores and studies of how Greenland climate records compare with other records of past climate. He also works with science management.


All textbooks and readings will be provided by DIS. Please pick up books during the arrivals workshop. The readings for each class are listed in the course calendar and come from the required texts. The abbreviations used in the course calendar events are given in parentheses below.

Main textbooks:

William F. Ruddiman: Earth’s Climate Past and Future, 3rd edition, 2014 (EC)
Chris Turney: Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past, 2008 (IMB)

Other required texts:
IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR6WG1)

Buizert, 2023: The thermal bipolar seesaw during abrupt climate change, Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences (Buizert)

Chris Turney, 2006: Bones, Rocks and Stars, 2nd edition (BRS)

Denton et al., 2010: The Last Glacial Termination, Science vol. 328, p. 1652 (Denton)

IPCC technical paper II – An introduction to climate models used in the IPCC second assessment report, 1997 (IPCC Tech)

Specific additional readings will be assigned from the following based on the direction of class discussions and interest of the students:

  • Bones, Rocks and Stars, Chris Turney, 2006
  • Quaternary Dating Methods, Mike Walker, Wiley 2005
  • Reconstructing Quaternary Environments, John Lowe and Mike Walker, 1997
  • Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises, National Research Council, 2002
  • The Ecology of Greenland, Born E.W. & Böcher J, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Illinniusiorfik, Nuuk, 2001.
  • Alley et al. (2003): Abrupt Climate Change, Science vol. 299, p. 2005 (Alley)

Approach to Teaching

The plan of topics and assignments, and readings etc. are updated on the Canvas course pages. Assigned readings and other details on the meetings are subject to change but will be updated online with as much notice as possible. 

Preparation for class

We expect students to read the assigned readings and complete other preparation work prior to each class, spending at least 2 hours for reading and preparation per meeting. In the classroom, we will not cover all the material in the assigned text, but will focus on key concepts and the understanding of the underlying processes and the similarities and differences between climate changes on different time scales.

Some classes are planned as flipped classroom classes, where the preparation (consisting of readings, online lectures, and exercises) is described in a guide available online. For all other classes, readings can be accessed from the relevant entry in the Course Summary below. In order to get the most out of the time in class, we ask you to post the following on the DIS Canvas course page no later than 8pm the day before each class:

  • What would you define as the key 1-3 messages of today’s text?
  • Mention any specific sections or concepts in today’s text that you find particularly difficult
  • Pose questions that you would like to include as part of the class discussion

Students are encouraged to write notes to summarize the assigned reading. Self-made notes (one standard paper page per textbook chapter) are the only allowed aids during the tests.

Core Course Week and Study Tours

Core Course week and study tours are an integral part of the core course as we take the classroom on the road and see how theory presented in the classroom translates to practice in the field. You will travel with your classmates and DIS faculty/staff on two study tours; a short study tour to Møn and Stevns during Core Course Week and a long study tour to Greenland later in the semester.

Expectations for study tours:

  • Participate in all activities
  • Engage in discussions, ask questions, and contribute to achieving the learning objectives
  • Respect the destination, the speakers, DIS staff, and your fellow classmates
  • Represent yourself, your home university and DIS in a positive light

While on a program study tour DIS will provide hostel/hotel accommodation, transportation to/from the destination(s), approx. 2 meals per day and entrances, guides, and visits relevant to your area of study or the destination. You will receive a more detailed itinerary prior to departure.

Travel policies: You are required to travel with your group to the destination. If you have to deviate from the group travel plans, you need approval from the program director and the study tours office.

Core Course Week

  • Short Study Tour to Møns Klint, Stevns Klint, and Southern Sjælland: Looking into the ancient past

This three-day short tour will take you to multiple interesting sites on Møn, Stevns and Southern Zealand. Møns Klint is a spectacular natural attraction with visible evidence of active geological processes, and includes a high-class geology museum. Stevns Klint contains a UNESCO world heritage-recognized (and visible) record of past climate change known as the K/Pg boundary, between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene approximately 66 million years ago. We will also visit other sites of cultural and historical significance in the area: Stevnsfortet (Cold War fortress and museum), Højerup’s old church, Fanefjord church (the Elmelunde Master, 15th century), King Asgers Mound (one of Denmark's biggest passage graves, 3000-1500 years BCE), and the provincial town of Vordingborg, founded around 1100 CE.

The base of the trip is the charming town of Stege, at 3835 inhabitants the largest town on the island of Møn.

  • Field study on the thermohaline circulation (THC)

Here we will perform a hands-on experiment to simulate the the density-driven circulation of the oceans.

  • Working on climate proxy presentations in groups
  • Proxy Presentations


Long Study Tour to Greenland
During the week in and around Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, students will experience a diversity of hands-on / eyes-on experiences in the land- and icescapes. The activities include visiting the ice sheet proper, a glacier front, periglacial landscape forms, discussing climate change right in the middle of it and viewing unique wildlife.

We will also meet with local people and tour a world-leading US research facility. During the dark evenings there will be lectures and ppt shows about life in the Arctic, aurora, ice and other cool stuff. Outside, under the bright Milky Way we will watch and enjoy the electromagnetic storms create Northern Lights (pending solar and local conditions). The K.A.T. (Kangerlussuaq Awareness Test) will frame all these topics and be your personal companion this week.

Field Studies

Visit to the Ice Core Laboratory at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen. Here we will introduce and explore the activities and facilities associated with ice core drilling in Greenland and the climate information that can be extracted from the Greenland ice cores.

Final exam preparation session. Here we will sum up the course together and prepare ourselves for the final oral exam.



To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work. The overall grade will come from the following: 



3 written quizzes during the semester


Kangerlussuaq Awareness Test (K.A.T.)

0% (passed / not passed) 

Final Oral Exam


Participation and Canvas Reading Feedback


55%: 3 written quizzes during the semester (1-3 pages, 20-30 minutes) with multiple choice questions and short text questions based on assigned reading and class discussions. Each of the tests will be announced at least a week in advance and completed during class time.

0%: Kangerlussuaq Awareness Test (K.A.T.) designed to frame the tour to Greenland in ways to engage and activate the students in taking ownership of the insight, knowledge, and experience they acquire during the tour. The test must be passed to be eligible for a passing grade in the class.

35%: Final Oral Exam. About 20 minutes of presentation and discussion of one out of four questions, all known in advance. The questions are based on the entire course content and will take place during finals week.

10%: Participation and Canvas Reading Feedback. We expect and encourage active participation in class discussions and require written feedback via DIS Canvas of each lesson's assigned reading. Here you will summarize the main points of the reading and pose questions that can be covered as part of the class discussion.

Academic Regulations

Use of electronic devices: Laptops, phones and other portable electronic devices can be used for taking notes if in silent mode, but please refrain from writing or checking e-mail and text messages, browsing, or using social media during class hours. As an exception, snappy tweets about climate-related subjects are accepted. During student presentations and group work, we kindly ask you to turn off or put electronic devices away.

Recording devices: Please note that recording of classes is not allowed, unless approved by Faculty prior to class.

Engaged Participation: Focused and constructive contribution in class discussions is encouraged and expected. If you feel tired, feel free to get up and walk around in the back of the classroom.

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -


Course Summary:

Date Details Due