Using Tree Rings for Past Weather and Climate

Using tree rings to teach weather, climate, correlation, photosynthesis, regression, the carbon cycle, isotopes and more.

1) Show the Film

2) Play the Game

Collect tree ring samples, align the samples to create a 300 year record and see what weather and climate events emerge here.

Alternatively, use the simple paper-strip version from UCAR.

3) Choose the Relevant Teaching Resource


Resource Subject Suggested age range
The Difference between Weather and Climate Teachers’ notes and worksheet. Geography 11-14 (KS3)
The impact of volcanoes on climate Teachers’ notes and worksheet. Geography 11-14 (KS3)
Weather detective – the weather of 1826 Teachers’ notes and worksheet. Geography 11-14 (KS3)
Past Climate Change Teachers’ notes and worksheet. Geography 11-14 (KS3)
Correlating Tree Rings and Temperature Notes for teachers and worksheets A , B, C , D and E and/ or spreadsheets A , B , C , D and E Geography 11-16 (KS3/4)
Solar, Volcanic and Anthropogenic Climate Change Teachers’ notes and worksheet Geography 14-16 (KS4)
The Factors Affecting Photosynthesis Teachers’ notes and worksheet Biology 11-14 (KS3)

Classroom posters: weather and history recorded by a sample of wood from The Tower of London and The Vyne

Guide to Calibration and Natural Climate Proxies (advanced).

Dating the Past Using Stable Isotopes in Tree Rings

Past Summer Rainfall from Oxygen Isotopes in Tree Rings

Unless otherwise stated, all temperature data used in the resources are based on the dataset published in this paper: European summer temperatures since Roman times. More information about the technique can be found in this paper: Oxygen stable isotope ratios from British oak tree-rings provide a strong and consistent record of past changes in summer rainfall.

Extension Activities

More Past Climate Teaching Resources

Resources exploring the solar, volcanic, orbital and greenhouse gas causes of climate change over the last 2.6 million years.

Climate change negotiations resource for schools.