Nicolás at a science Open House event talks to students about his Snow On Ice work and how his superhero skills contribute to the project.

How do we know about past climate, and how can we predict the future? The Snow On Ice superheroes have been using a series of proxies to look back in time to understand climate over the last 11,700 years, a time known as the Holocene. Through applying ‘super skills’ developed through their scientific training, scientists can uncover what remains hidden to others. Taking us into the future requires the other part of our superhero team, the modelers. Working as a team the power of our science superheroes is magnified and unstoppable. But just what makes our superheroes super? Learn about them below.

Our Science Superheroes

The cards shown below are 4X6 inches in size and can be downloaded to use in a classroom or outreach event using the link below. All the incredible superhero artwork was created by Jeremy Stock, graduate student in the University at Buffalo geology department. The cards can be used in combination with the ‘superhero posters below, also available for download.

Science Superhero Alia has super coring power. Working with sediment samples (shown in her superhero card) collected from the bottom of small lakes along the edge of the ice sheet, she uses her X-Ray vision to extract the age of material in the core to identify the story of ice retreat and expansion. Gray layers represent glacial flour created by the ice sheet as it grinds over the rock, brown layers are created by organic material (plants, algae and other organics) blowing or washing into the open lake once it is exposed.
Alia is a geologist who spends time both working outdoors, often in the Arctic, and in the geochemistry lab. Seeing the samples collected in the field and then working with them in the lab can be an important part of building the science understanding. Alia’s card is available in English & Spanish.
Science Superhero Estelle has incredible fossil finding fingers that helps her to locate and identify small fossilized planktonic dinocysts to uncover the story of past sea ice cover along Greenland’s south western shoreline.
Estelle is a paleoclimatologist from Canada. Since her work is in marine environments she has spent time on ships in the Arctic collecting samples. Like Alia, Estelle also finds her answers hidden in the sediment, but collecting sediments for Estelle requires sampling in the ocean from a large ship, not sampling in a lake from a small boat like Alia.

Science Superhero Nicolás uses his superpower to time the retreat of the ice edge along Greenland’s perimeter. He uses his Beryllium drilling ability to locate just the right samples that have captured the cosmic clock from quartz exposed around Greenland’s rocky edges. The story of the ice retreat is seared into the quartz as  
 10Be once the ice moves back giving him a chronological clasp, a powerful time stamping ability.
Nicolás is a geochemist studying the Greenland landscape searching for rock samples that hold evidence of glacial retreat. He focuses on two important geologic features, glacial moraines and glacial erratics, both rock pieces left behind by a retreating ice sheet and evidence of past ice extent. Moraines are long ridges of rock and sediment that once collected along the edge of the glacier. Erratics are large rocks that do not seem to match their surroundings, and appear to have been transported in and dropped by the ice. Nicolás’ card is available in English & Spanish. 

Science Superhero Jessica the powerful proxy processor extracts ancient climate from different proxies found in two kinds of cores, ice and sediment. One of the tools Jessica uses to extract ancient climate is oxygen isotopes. Two isotopes, 16O and 18O, tell us a lot about past climate. In cold periods there is less 18O than in warm periods. Jessica skills involve that extra ingredient that truly defines a superhero…she is an intuitive information integrator bringing together many details to build a connected picture of the past.
Jessica is a climate scientist studying past climate by assimilating, or fitting together, data from several different proxies and using them to build a reconstruction of past climate. Two main datasets that Jessica works with are ice core data and pollen data. Ice cores, cylindrical sections of ice, have been collected from several locations in Greenland. Ice cores have small air bubbles trapped in them with gases from the atmosphere. Pollen that is washed or blown into lakes can be found in the sediments, providing a record of past vegetation. Both the gases in the ice and the pollen from the plants are proxies for past climate.
Science Superhero Allison Recreates the Climate with Chemistry by brewing a Paleo Plant Potion to pluck out the secrets bound up in waxes in the plant’s leaves. Allison’s focuses her mind on extracting the plant’s hidden records of precipitation, by applying Isotopic Telekinesis to release the hidden hydrogen formulas locked away for thousands of years.


Allison is an organic geochemist who uses chemisty to look at past climate. Geochemist use their knowledge of chemistry to study the Earth, for Allison this means she uses isotopes from the wax coating on leaves to understand both temperature and precipitation in the past.

Science Superhero Margie is a science communicator. She uses her skills to break down the science into key understandings for students and the public.
Margie is an ecologist who specialized in bringing science to the public. It is important part of any project to share the research, how it is done, and who are the scientists doing it.

Educational Posters

Poster of Alia the Superhero downloads as 24X36 inches. Teachers have used this in their classroom to support science career exploration, women in science and an introduction to sediment core sampling.
Poster of Nicolás the Superhero downloads as 24X36 inches. Teachers have used this in their classroom to support science career exploration and an introduction to exposure dating and chonometers.
Poster of Estelle the Superhero downloads as 24X36 inches. Teachers have used this in their classroom to support science career exploration, women in science and an introduction to dinocysts as a proxy for sea ice cover.
Flip side of Estelle’s poster highlighting our set of superheroes. Downloads as 24X36. Teachers have used this to support science career exploration and as a general introduction to the use of proxies as a window to the past.

Slides for Curriculum

Scientists are Superheroes introductory powerpoint (ppt or pdf) presentation. Use the presentation to introduce how we tell past climate (proxies), what are the tools we use and how these can help us understand the future. Downloadable using the button below.
Superhero Alia’s introductory powerpoint (or pdf) presentation that matcges to her activities. Alis collects sleeves of mud and clay from the bottom of small lakes along the edge of the ice sheet to determine when the ice melted back forming an open lake.

Superhero Estelle’s introductory powerpoint (or pdf) presentation that matches to her activities. Estelle uses dinocysts, small fossilized seeds from dinoflagellates, to determine past sea ice cover. Downloadable using the button below.

Curriculum Materials

Curriculum resources on using dinocysts as a proxy for understanding past climate mapped to NGSS and organized in ‘5E’ format. Using the phenomena of how we understand climate in the past, students work with data, look for patterns, hypothesize, concluding with a debate framed around arguing form evidence. These materials have been tested with Middle School and High School Earth Science students. Materials include 3 activities and worksheets: Mapping species diversity, Mapping niche areas for species, dinocyst data dilemma. Use the link below and select Estelle’s Curriculum Packet.
Curriculum resources on lake sediment coring as a proxy for establishing the timing of the ice retreat. Curriculum focuses on sequencing, and Earth Science vocabulary. These materials have been tested with Middle School and High School Earth Science students.
Curriculum resource focused on High School students. Works well for AP Environmental Science, Biology and Earth Science students. Students work with a graphic organizer worksheet to understand data graphics from a published journal article. Use the link below and select from Estelle’s Curriculum Packet.



Curriculum resource focused on High School students. Works well for AP Environmental Science and Earth Science students. Students work with a real data to critically analyze field data, chart it and then transfer that data into a graphic representation of an Earth process. This activity focuses on spatial and temporal thinking. Download the resource from Alia’s HS curriculum. This material has been tested with High School students.