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Ithaca's Museum of the Earth Focuses on Climate Change

Visitors walking through a labyrinth of hallways displaying fossils, bones and archaic rocks will eventually come face-to-face with a gigantic model of a Stegosaurus. The museum’s youngest guests who enter the “dinosaur world” are dwarfed in comparison to the size of the creature.

While this life-size dinosaur is the largest resident of Ithaca’s Museum of the Earth, it is the Ice Age Room that is the most impactful, said Ingrid Zabel, climate change education manager at the museum.

The glacier and coral reef exhibits in the room highlight the impact of global warming.

“I work with students in specific programs where they can participate in hands-on activities to learn about glaciers and how they have changed throughout history,” noted Zabel.

The museum, part of the Paleontological Research Institution, recently increased its emphasis on climate change and how it is impacting oceans.

“[They] students get to see the history of coral reefs and oceans throughout Earth’s history, and that puts it in a different context than just seeing dead fish or corals that are bleaching,” said Maureen Bickley, the museum’s education manager.

The Museum of the Earth offers a range of fossil exhibits. (Photo by Madeline Lester)

The Museum of the Earth’s focus on climate change could not come at a more relevant time. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report warning that climate change will lead to global devastation in a few years.

“An exhibit on coral reefs is intended to help audiences think about the fact that climate change occurs not just in high latitude areas, but also in the tropics and is affecting, for example, tropical marine reefs,” said Robert Ross, associate director for outreach.

The coral reefs are a real-life example of how climate change affects different environments. (Photo by Madeline Lester)

Two recent visitors to the museum were Jana and her son. “My son really enjoys learning about the earth and skulls, and all sorts of creatures, and we wanted to have a day of discovery,” said Jana.

She acknowledged that she didn’t have any expectations before going to the museum, but admits she was amazed by the hands-on activities and captivating exhibits.

Zabel said she loves when kids have an “ah-ha moment” as they look at something from a different perspective and learn more about what can be done when it comes to issues like climate change.

Jana and her son play with educational puzzles and games. (Photo by Madeline Lester)

The museum staff is trying to educate an audience beyond the Ithaca community.

Ross noted that a major accomplishment for the Paleontological Research Institution was the publication of the book, The Teacher Friendly Guide To Climate Change, which includes both content on climate change and ways teachers can effectively teach the subject.

Ross would like to put a copy of the book in the hands of every high school science teacher in the country.

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