Sediments and the Global Carbon Cycle

This series of activities is designed to introduce students to the role of sediments and sedimentary rocks in the global carbon cycle. Students learn how stable carbon isotopes can be used to reconstruct ancient sedimentary environments. Students will make some simple calculations, formulate hypotheses, and think about the implications of their results. The activity includes an optional demonstration of the density separation of a sediment sample into a light, organic fraction and a heavier, mineral fraction.

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Elana Leithold
North Carolina State University
Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College, On The Cutting Edge collection

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

The activity could be used as a lab exercise supported by bigger picture discussions in the classroom.

Optionally, the exercises may be done in small groups. Depending on time and facilities, collection and analysis of some sediment or soil samples for organic carbon content, stable carbon isotopes, and/or mineral surface area could be included.

The problem sets could be assigned as homework.

For upper level classes, students can find the journal articles themselves. Students may wish to refer to more recent journal articles to compare with more current analysis.

No summative assessment is provided, so instructors may wish to look back over all three parts of the activity and tie the concepts and analysis together to make all parts of the activity coherent and relevant.