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Climate Change; Finding Information

How to be an Information Sleuth:

Finding and Using Information Related to Climate Change

Incorporating Information Literacy into Climate Change Teaching

This module is directed toward college & university juniors, seniors, and new graduate students. It could be modified for use with honors high school students.


Topic 1: Organization of Literature
Topic 2: The Research & Publication Process
Topic 3: Using the Right Tools (online databases etc.)
Topic 4: The Search Process
Topic 5: Journals Related to Climate Change
Topic 6: Finding Other Information (data sets, images, etc.)
Topic 7: Use and Misuse of the Web
Topic 8: Evaluating Information
Topic 9: How to Read a Scientific Paper
Topic 10: Reporting Information

Additional Information

This activity is part of the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Activities collection.

On the Cutting Edge: More information on teaching climate change and other geoscience subjects.


Finding information on any subject can be an adventure. In fact, it is useful and fun to use some of the same thought processes used in detective work and forensics. You start with what is known, and the more you know, the more likely there will be a successful resolution of the mystery…in this case, finding the information you need. Information searching is a skill that can be improved through frequent and intelligent use. Also, the more you know about the research & publication process, the organization of literature, and various search tools, the easier it will be for you to find useful information. It is helpful to keep asking yourself “If I were this piece of information, where would I be hiding?” It is also important to know how to evaluate and organize information, and how to effectively report information orally and in writing.

The subject of Climate Change reaches across nearly every discipline: earth & planetary sciences, atmospheric sciences, life sciences, social sciences, business & economics, law & public policy, even the arts & humanities. Such interdisciplinary subjects offer special challenges for information seekers.

The following exercises are designed to help you refine your information seeking skills. They are geared toward Climate Change, but the skills you gain and practice can be used for any subject.

Note: Some of the material below was taken verbatim from previous web pages created by the author.

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Topic 1: Organization of Literature


Types of Publications
Societies vs. Commercial Publishers vs. Open Access
Exercise 1

Understanding the organization of literature can help us find the type of information we need. It is important to know how publications such as journal articles, books, meeting proceedings, encyclopedias, etc. differ by the type and currency of information they contain. In the next section we will consider a related topic, the Research & Publication Process, which influences when as well as where different types of information are presented.

Types of Publications

These resources were consulted for the following definitions:

Serials Definitions - ELMS College (link no longer live)
ODLIS: Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science 
Geological Society of America
Young, H., ed., 1983, The ALA Glossary of Library and Information Science: Chicago, IL, American Library Association.

Book: "A collection of leaves of paper, parchment, vellum, cloth, or other material (written, printed, or blank) fastened together along one edge, with or without a protective case or cover... (ODLIS)"

Monograph: "A relatively short book or treatise on a single subject, complete in one physical piece, usually written by a specialist in the field. Monographic treatment is detailed and scholarly, but not extensive in scope. The importance of monographs in scholarly communication depends on the the sciences ... where currency is essential, journals are usually the preferred means of publication...
Monographs are sometimes published in monographic series and subseries. (ODLIS)"

Dissertations and Theses: A dissertation is a lengthy, formal written account of scholarly investigation or original research on a specialized topic, submitted to a university as partial requirements for a Ph.D. degree. At the master's level, such a work is known as a thesis. Dissertations and theses may be published or unpublished. Copies are usually available via interlibrary loan or document delivery, and some may be purchased from services such as Bell & Howell in either print or microform formats.

Serial: This term includes any publication in any format that is issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations and that is intended to be continued indefinitely. Serials include periodicals, journals, memoirs, proceedings, transactions, annual reports and yearbooks, newspapers, magazines, and numbered monographic series.

Periodical: A periodical is a serial that appears at regular intervals, generally more frequently than annually, and each issue is numbered or dated consecutively. It is intended to continue indefinitely. General newspapers and publications of corporate bodies related to meetings are not included.

Journal: A journal is a periodical that contains scholarly articles and/or current information on research and development related to a particular subject. Journals include the following:

Professional/Society Journals: These are issued by, or under the auspices of, societies, associations or institutions. They may or may not be refereed. Examples: GSA Bulletin; AAPG Bulletin

Refereed Journals: These are evaluated by one or more subject specialists in addition to the editor before being accepted for publication. They may or may not be published or sponsored by particular professional societies or associations. Example: Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Trade Journals: Trade journals contain information related to a particular trade or industry and are usually not refereed. Not generally used in scientific research. Example: Oil and Gas Journal.

Magazine: A Magazine is a periodical that contains general reading articles. Not generally used in scientific research. Example: Discover

Newspaper: These publications are issued frequently at stated intervals. They cover current interest topics and events. No generally used in scientific research

Monographic Series: A monographic series consists of a group of monographs, related by subject and issued in succession. They generally have uniform style and a collective title. They may be numbered or unnumbered.

Special Publication: Special publications are issued by professional societies and associations. According to GSA, they are generally state-of-the-art studies, and the results may be altered or augmented by subsequent research. Example: GSA Special Publications.

Memoir: A memoir is a report of investigations in a specialized field, often presented to, or issued by a scholarly society. According to GSA, memoirs are authoritative and comprehensive, and they are expected to be definitive works for a decade or more. Example: GSA Memoirs.

Transactions: Transactions are the published papers presented at a conference or meeting of a society or association, and may include a record of what transpired at the meeting. Example: EOS, Transactions [of the] American Geophysical Union.

Proceedings: These are the published record of a conference, congress, symposium, or other meeting sponsored by an association or society. They usually include abstracts or reports of presented papers. Example: Proceedings of the 8th International Williston Basin Symposium.

Reviews: According to GSA, reviews "summarize geological theory or present case histories" related to a specific subject. Examples: Reviews in Engineering Geology; International Geology Review.

Treatise: "A book or long formal essay [or monographic series], usually on an abstruse or complex subject, especially a systematic well-documented presentation of facts or evidence, and the principles or conclusions drawn from them. (ODLIS)" Example, Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology (GSA).

Field Guide: A document prepared for a field trip, and distributed to participants. The generally provide background information and information about individual field trip stops. Most include a road log. Often, only a limited number of guides are printed, and identifying and obtaining field trip guidebooks can be very difficult. Example: Field Guide to New Zealand Active Tectonics.

Yearbook: "An annual compendium of facts and statistics of the preceding year, frequently limited to a special subject" (Young, 1983). Example: Canadian Minerals Yearbook.

Annual Report: "An official document describing and reviewing the activities, programs, and operations of an organization or one of its divisions for the previous, and usually fiscal, year" (Young, 1983). Example: United States Geological Survey Yearbook.

Government Documents (USGS) (The following descriptions are from the USGS Manual. A more up-to-date version can be found at:

Professional Papers
"The Professional Paper series includes comprehensive reports of wide and lasting interest and scientific importance addressed to professional scientists and engineers. The reports are characterized by thoroughness of study and breadth of technical scope and/or geographic coverage; their length generally exceeds 30 printed pages. Included are the results of resource studies and of major topographic, hydrologic and geologic investigations."

"Bulletins, like Professional Papers, contain significant data and interpretations and are reports of lasting scientific importance, but they are generally more limited in scientific scope and (or) geographic coverage."

Open-file Reports
"The Open-File series is designed for immediate release of basic data, preliminary reports and a wide range of documents that may or may not meet criteria for publication in other Survey report series or in outside journals. The principal requirement for release of an Open-File report is a demonstrable public need."

"Circulars present, quickly and at no charge, technical or programmatic information to scientists, engineers, planners, decision makers and the public. They disseminate primarily programmatic and scientific information of an ephemeral nature...Circulars are of wide, popular interest but are generally of little archival value..."

Fact Sheet
"Fact Sheets are used to disseminate timely information on scientific and
technical programs of the U.S. Geological Survey and are available, at no
cost, from U.S. Geological Survey."

Water-Resources Investigation
"Water Resources Investigations Reports (WRIR) present hydrologic data and interpretations that are mainly of local interest to an interdisciplinary audience composed of scientists, engineers, and officials of Federal and State agencies..."

Water-Data Report
"The Office of Water Data Coordination, Water Resources Division, publishes several types of reports that are products of interagency water-data coordination activities..."

Water-Supply Paper
"Water-Supply Papers are comprehensive reports that present significant interpretive results of hydrologic investigations of wide interest to professional geologists, hydrologists, and engineers. The series covers investigations in all phases of hydrology, including hydrogeology, availability of water, quality of water, and use of water."


Government Depository Maps for Geoscience

Links to Lists
National Geologic Maps Database
USGS Store (print maps)
Geospatial Digital Data 
The National Map

U.S. Geological Survey Science Data Catalog 
See Topic 6


A preprint is a research article that is made available to the public before it is formally published. Preprint servers are being set up for various scientific disciplines such as physics, mathematics, and chemistry. These servers provide free access to and archiving of a variety of types of scientific information. Advantages include rapid, inexpensive, and broad communication of information, including large amounts of supporting data. Disadvantages may include flooding the literature with trivial and unverified information, and premature disclosure of results. Some of the problems with this type of information are in the process of being resolved.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Literature

Definitions of these three terms vary. This is my understanding of the terms: Primary literature consists of the first places that information is available to the general population and includes journal articles and conference proceedings. Peer reviewed journals are especially important because the information has been judged worthy by other knowledgeable scientists and generally consists of new information. Secondary literature consists of primary literature that has been condensed and included in books and review articles after having been judged important after a period of time. Tertiary literature has been solidly accepted by the scientific community and included in dictionaries, encyclopedias, handbooks and other reference works. (Some consider tertiary literature to be guides to literature such as bibliographies, indexing and abstracting services and databases.)

Societies vs. Commercial Publishers vs. Open Access

The primary goal of a commercial publisher is to make a profit. The primary purpose of a non-for-profit/learned society publisher should be, first, to "establish, promote, and disseminate scientific knowledge" (Tian 1998). There should be a commitment to "scholarship first and publishing second". The distinction between commercial and learned society publishers is sometimes blurred. Some Society publishers currently act more like commercial publishers. And some society publications are actually handled by commercial publishers. In general, society journals are more likely to contain extra material such as meeting calendars, job openings, book reviews, obituaries, awardees, etc.

The Cost of Information & The Open Access Initiatives

Information is definitely not "free", and the cost of information has been rising exponentially for some time. Scientific journals are very expensive with some individual annual subscriptions costing libraries thousands of dollars each year. Library subscriptions are nearly always much more expensive than individual subscriptions. Electronic subscriptions may actually cost more than print subscriptions. In addition, due to questions of perpetual access, many libraries are reluctant to give up their last print subscription, even if they have electronic access. The issues involved are very complex, and too convoluted to cover here. If you have an interest in this subject, your librarian will be happy to discuss these issues with you.

In addition to journal costs, there are many costs incurred by the library which patrons may not realize exist. For example, each catalog record costs money, as well as each search of the online catalog. Online index subscriptions such as GeoRef are very expensive. Materials obtained through Interlibrary Loan commonly cost $30 per article, and may cost more. All of these issues become important to students, researchers, and teaching faculty as libraries struggle to provide vital information.

The following is a good description and discussion of Open Access: <>. I encourage you to become familiar with the issues of information cost and the opportunities related to Open Access. There is a Directory of Open Access Journals in the area of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Tian, Jie, 1998, Digital delivery of scientific information to libraries - Perspectives on today and tomorrow: Serials Review, v. 24, n. 1, p. 113-118.

Exercise 1 (Instructor: Assign Group or Individual Exercise)

Group Exercise

Instructor: Divide the class into groups of 4 or 5 students. Set up stations with several examples of one of the following types of information resources at each station. (It would be advisable to enlist the help of a geology or science librarian to help provide the literature examples). Examples should contain information related to Climate Change and be as current as possible.


Scientific journal (see Topic 5)
Review article
Magazine (e.g. Discover, Time, Newsweek)
Special Publication or Memoir
Transactions or Proceedings
Government Document
Scientific Dictionary

Assignment: Have the groups rotate to the stations and compare the various types of publications. Individuals should take notes to hand in. Have the group discuss their observations of differences, similarities, and potential uses of the information sources. Which are primary, secondary, and tertiary literature? Which are peer reviewed? Have the groups each elect a spokesperson to report their group's observations to the class.

Individual Exercise

In this exercise, you will examine the differences between primary, secondary, and tertiary literature in the area of Climate Change. Using an online database (such as GeoRef, Web of Science, etc.) find one recent example of primary literature on climate change; using an online catalog, find one recent example of secondary literature on climate change; using an online catalog, find one example of tertiary literature on the subject. Try to find examples that cover the same area of climate change (as you would if you were writing a paper). If you need help finding these, consult a librarian. We will cover search strategies in a later topic.

Examine the three examples looking for differences and similarities in the types of information they contain. For example, look at the references. How many are there in each? What are the dates of the references compared to the publication date of the article, book, and encylopedia/handbook?

Write a half to one page summary of your observations of the similarities and differences of the three pieces, including the potential uses of the information contained in the items. Be sure to give full references for the three items. There are no right or wrong answers. The purpose of this exercise is to stimulate your thinking about the various types of information, how to find each type, and realize potential appropriate uses.

Beyond the requirements of this exercise, you will profit from looking at, and becoming familiar with the many different types of publications listed above. Also, as a future consumer and producer of scholarly information, it would serve you well to become familiar with the issues related to open access versus commercial publishing, and the cost of information.

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Topic 2: The Research & Publication Process

Second, let’s see how knowledge of the Research & Publication Process can help us find appropriate information.

The Research & Publication Process [at this link]

Scientific Method

The Nature of Science and the Scientific Method by Christine V. McLelland: Geological Society of America

Exercise 2

Group or Individual Exercise:

For Group Exercise, divide into groups of 4 or 5 students and discuss the assignment below. Individuals should take notes to hand in. Groups should select a spokesperson to report observations to the class.

Study the information above related to the Research & Publication Process and Scientific Method. Write a one page paper on how the process of Scientific Method relates to the Research & Publication Process, and how the different types of publications from Exercise 1 fit into the Research & Publication Process (use the more detailed types of publications such as journal articles, proceedings, transactions, etc. rather than the three major categories (primary, etc.). You don't need to cover every single publication type, but give an overall indication of where different literature types fit into the process. In addition, write a paragraph on how Scientific Method relates to Climate Change research.

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Topic 3: Using the Right Tools: Indexes and Catalogs

The old way versus new ways of searching for information

Before electronic indexes, it was necessary to consult print indexes such as Bibliography and Index of Geology. This was a very tedious and inexact process using "controlled language". It was first necessary to determine subject or author terms, then to look through the indexes for each year, and then to look at each bibliographic entry indicated by the index. Since the current year was not yet cumulated, it was necessary to look through each issue of that year. There was no way to search for key words in titles, descriptors or abstracts. It is still necessary to consult the old print indexes for some older or non-English materials, and every scholar/researcher should have a basic understanding of how to use print indexes. However, most formerly print indexes are now available online in electronic format. It is now possible to also search key words, descriptors, and abstract fields, and it is becoming more common to be able to search the full text of documents. You should still be familiar with the old way of doing research with print indexes. [Instructor: If possible, provide examples of a print index for the class to examine.]

Special considerations for interdisciplinary subjects such as Climate Change

As stated previously, the subject of Climate Change reaches across many disciplines including earth & planetary sciences, atmospheric sciences, life sciences, social sciences, business & economics, law & public policy, even the arts & humanities. Such interdisciplinary subjects offer special challenges for information seekers.

Different disciplines may use different terminology for the same concepts, or the same terminology to mean different things. (For example, think about possible meanings of the term "climate change" in economics, social sciences or the humanities.) These differences must be considered when searching for information in an interdisciplinary area. In addition, the many different online indexes vary as to content, overlap and uniqueness of information, the journals indexed, the currency of indexing and updates, as well as many other factors.

A study (Joseph, 2007) of 11 online indexes found that there was unique information related to Quaternary research, a subject that includes climate change research, in each of the 11 databases. This and other studies emphasize the need to search multiple databases if comprehensive information is needed, especially for interdisciplinary subjects. The study also found that a large amount of information is still being added to most online indexes many years after the publication year. This means that at the time of any search, some or much information may be missed because it has yet to be included in the indexes. It may be necessary to keep re-conducting searches over time.

Joseph, Lura E., 2007, Comparison of retrieval performance of eleven online indexes used for Quaternary research, an interdisciplinary science: Reference and User Services Quarterly, 46 (4), 36 p.

Examples of online indexes useful for finding Climate Change literature

Most useful:

Meteorological and Geoastrophysical Abstracts
Web of Science/Web of Knowledge
Current Contents

Also useful:

Agricola (Agriculture) (free version)
Biological Abstracts (BIOSIS)
Engineering Village (NTIS, Compendex, INSPEC)
Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management
SciFinder Scholar (Chemistry)
USGS Publications Warehouse
Water Resources Abstracts
Zoological Record

Search Multiple Journals for Full Text Articles:

(A subscription is necessary to access the full text of the articles, or you will need to purchase the articles individually)

American Geophysical Union - Search AGU publications
American Meteorological Society
Ingenta - Browse or search publications
JSTOR (Includes older issues of Science and others) 
ScienceDirect - Elsevier Online Journals

Search the Web for Scholarly Articles & Web Pages:

Scopus - by subscription (Elsevier)
Google Scholar

Search Repositories

The University of Saskatchewan Library has a web page of links to open access repositories. Some of the resources search across multiple repositories.

There are many other resources.

Examples of online indexes less likely to have literature directly related to Climate Change research, but still useful, depending on what you are seeking

ABI/INFORM (Economics)
Art Abstracts (Art Full Text)
PsychInfo (Psychology)
Sociological abstracts
And many more

Indexes vs. Catalogs

Sometimes people are confused about when to use online catalogs and when to use online indexes to search for literature. Online catalogs are useful for finding books and for finding the titles of journals, but NOT for finding journal articles. Online indexes should be used to find journal articles. Depending on the online index, some may also be used to find books and book chapters; indexes vary as to the amount and types of literature included. Some useful online catalogs include WorldCat from OCLC (covers material held by many libraries worldwide, but a subscription is necessary; free beta version), and many university and public library catalogs (, most of which can be searched without charge. Most university libraries offer Interlibrary Loan service to primary patrons. This is an expensive service, but many university libraries absorb the costs for the patrons.

Finding Problem References

Some references present special problems for information seekers when using the online catalog to find them. For example:

Serefiddin, F., Schwarcz, H., and Ford, D., 2005, Use of hydrogen isotope variations in speleothem fluid inclusions as an independent measure of paleoclimate, in Mora, G., and Surge, D., eds., Isotopic and elemental tracers of Cenozoic climate change: Geological Society of America Special Paper 395, p.43-53.

Many people would try to locate this article by searching the online catalog for the author "Serefiddin" and the title "Use of hydrogen isotope variations in speleothem fluid....". In most cases, the searcher would not find the item in the online catalog and conclude that the library did not have the item. However, this is an article in a larger work, therefore the search should be for the editor "Mora" and the title "Isotopic and elemental tracers of Cenozoic climate change". The trick is to read the whole reference, and look for clues like "in".

Another factor could keep a person from locating the above item: Many libraries do not "analyze" all book series. That means that the online catalog will only have the series title (in the above example, "Geological Society of America Special Paper") and the volumes owned (395, in this case), but not the author/editor and title of the monograph.

Other hard-to-locate literature include field trip guidebook series, which may be jointly issued by several societies and/or agencies, and these may vary over time for the same series. Catalogers are restricted regarding how items are cataloged by the information on the cover and title pages of items, therefore depending on how the publishers of the guidebooks include information on these pages, guidebooks can be difficult to find in online catalogs. If you are having difficulty locating an item in the online catalog, be sure to consult a librarian.

Exercise 3

Select at least 6 online indexes and search for articles using the phrase "climate change". Include at least two databases that might be less likely to have information on the subject, such as indexes specializing in social sciences or humanities (e.g. PsychLit). Ask a librarian for help if you need to. For each of the online indexes, describe and compare what you found (number of articles, subject matter, etc.). How does the material found relate to the major subject area of each online index? How might the search terms "climate change" return "false hits" (irrelevant information) when using some online indexes, for example ones emphasizing economics or sociology?

Select an online catalog from a university  ( and identify a current book on climate change. Use the same online catalog to find a journal related to climate change (see Topic 5 for examples).

Write several paragraphs summarizing what you learned from this exercise.

Bonus Exercise: In the year 1883, the volcanic island Krakatoa erupted near Java, Indonesia, essentially destroying itself (Winchester, 2003). Subsequently, due to the large amount of ash that spread through the world's atmosphere, striking sunsets were experienced worldwide. Artists such as William Ashcroft (England) and Frederick Church (New York) recorded those sunsets in their paintings. If you wanted to research atmospheric changes during that time period by studying those paintings, what online indexes would be most useful for finding information on the subject? Explain why. The purpose of this exercise is to consider interdisciplinary research and the potential usefulness of seemingly unrelated indexes and information resources.

Winchester, Simon, 2003, Krakatoa: The day the world exploded, August 27, 1883: New York, Harper-Collins, 416 p.

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Topic 4: The Search Process

Steps for Finding Information on Your Topic

Step 1. Select and narrow your topic.

One of the most common mistakes made by college students is the failure to sufficiently narrow the topic of the paper. For example "climate change" might be a good place to start, but needs to be narrowed.

Another common mistake is to narrow the topic to the point that not enough material is available.

One strategy would be to search "climate change", look at the material available, and then narrow the topic based on ideas gained from the original search.

Step 2. Choose your search terms.

Let's say you decided to consider writing a paper on climate change related to changes in the thermohaline circulation of the Atlantic Ocean possibly related to the influx of fresh water into the north Atlantic.

Use the main terms from your idea, and then think of synonyms and related terms. You will add to your list as you search and evaluate your search results. Example:

global AND climate change AND atlantic AND fresh water
OR   OR   OR   OR
rapid AND cold reversal AND thermohaline circulation AND heinrich event*
OR   OR   OR   OR
  AND paleoclimate AND north atlantic oscillation AND ice rafting
OR   OR   OR    
  AND   AND   AND  

Step 3. Define your search strategy.

Your search strategy will partly depend on the search engine you use. Many search engines provide templates to help users input search terms. Even when using these templates, it is helpful to know how the computer program is using the input. It is usually also possible to search in "command mode" rather than using the template, and this is often faster and sometimes offers more sophisticated searches than the template. Search engines are not yet standardized, and each will handle elements such as Boolean operators, truncation, and so forth differently. Consult the help functions for each search engine to ensure that you obtain the correct results. It is helpful to know the following:

    Search tools:
    • Boolean Operators: and, or, not (and not, but not). See figure. These are used to connect search terms in order to widen or narrow the search.
    • Truncation/Wildcards: *, #, +, !, ?, $, etc. These are used as substitutes for characters within search terms. (Use with care. For example, rock* would retrieve rock and rocks, but also rockets and rocker, depending on the database. Examine your results and adjust your search if necessary).
    • Nesting: (....) Tells the search engine the order to perform operations by using parentheses.
    • Phrases: Treated differently by the different search engines. With some search engines phrases must be enclosed in quotes.
    • Adjacency: How close words must be within text. Treated differently by the different search engines.
    • Stop words: Common words such as "a", "the", "of" that are not included in a search by the search engine. Treated differently by the different search engines.
    • Fields: Some search engines, such as GeoRef, allow limiting the search to specific fields. For example, "hydrology in ti de ab" limits the search to the title, descriptor and abstract fields. This is useful when unwanted hits are resulting from terms in an institutional field or such.

Example of a complex search strategy using Boolean operators, truncation and nesting with GeoRef:

((global climate change) or (rapid climate change) or (cold reversal) ) and (atlantic or thermohaline circulation or north atlantic oscillation) and ( fresh water or heinrich event* or ice rafting)

This search could be conducted in steps. For example:

    First, search: climate change

    Then search: #1 and (global or rapid or cold reversal),

    Then search: #2 and (atlantic or thermohaline circulation or north atlantic oscillation)

    Then continue adding search sets, until you have sufficiently narrowed the search.

    Searching in sets helps you understand the results. For example, if you end up with zero hits, there may be a typographical error. You may expand or narrow your search after any step. Searching with one string of text can be faster, but searching in steps gives more control.

    Example of problems using truncation: rock* (returns rock and rocks, but also rockets, rockers, etc.)

Step 4. Choose your database

Here are descriptions of a few databases, but there are many more appropriate for the subject of Climate Change, as you discovered in the last topic. The search tools will depend on the vendor of the database. Consult the online help sections of the databases.


  • Indexes geological information published from 1700's to present; includes government documents.

Web of Science

  • Web of Science is the online equivalent of print citation products, such as Science Citation Index. Citation searching enables one to track lines of research forward in time by determining citations to older, important articles.

Meteorological and Geoastrophysical Abstracts

  • Covers the world's literature on meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and physics, astrophysics, hydrology, glaciology, physical oceanography and environmental sciences. Indexes over 600 journal titles, as well as conference proceedings, books, technical reports and other monographs.


  • Indexes the worldwide literature on geography, geology, and ecology

Current Contents

  • Indexes thousands of journals in all disciplines
  • Updated every few weeks
  • 1996 through present

Engineering Village (NTIS, Compendex, INSPEC)

  • Deals with applied science and engineering

Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management

  • Environmental Sciences and Pollution Management is a multidisciplinary database covering literature of the environmental sciences published from 1981 to present. Topics related to geology include energy resources, environmental engineering, and pollution of land and water.

U.S. Government Documents (GPO Monthly Catalog; MoCat)

  • The Catalog of United States Government Publications indexes print and electronic information published by Federal agencies. Many of these publications are distributed through the Federal Depository Library Program. The Catalog via paid subscription contains records from 1976 to present. A free index contains records generated since January 1994 and is updated daily. A print index, Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications, contains earlier information.

Publications of the U.S. Geological Survey:

Many other databases are available (see Topic 3)

Step 5. Conduct your search

Step 6. Evaluate search results, note additional terms and unwanted terms.

Step 7. Refine search and re-do.

Step 8. Find out whether your library has the material by using the library online catalog; if not, use Interlibrary Loan if it is available.

  • To find out whether your library has a particular book, use the online catalog.
  • For journals:
    • Use the online catalog to find the call number. You can use the ISSN number from database output (For example, the "IS" field in GeoRef).
    • Connect to online journals if your library has access to online journals.
    • If your library doesn't have what you need, and it isn't available full text on the Web, use WorldCat (by subscription, or try the free beta version) to find out if other libraries have it. Use Interlibrary Loan, if you have that service at your school. Check to see whether there is a charge for the service. Make sure you leave plenty of time to receive material through Interlibrary Loan!
    • Many people make the mistake of searching a library online catalog for the title and author of an article within a journal or larger work (such as memoirs, proceedings, transactions, field guides), and get frustrated when they can't find it in the catalog. The individual articles are not found in library online catalogs. Instead, you need to search for the publication that contains the article; you need to search for the journal title or the title and author/editor of the memoir, transaction, special paper, etc.
    • Note: To add further confusion, many libraries are beginning to offer what is known as "federated searches" as options to their online catalog. These federated systems search across resources and may include the online catalog, as well as various indexes available to the institution, enabling simultaneous searches for both books and journal articles. Easy Search from the University of Illinois is an example of a federated search system. The caveats in the bullet point above still apply if you are attempting to find out whether your library has a print copy of a specific article.

    Exercise 4

    Starting with the concept of "climate change", narrow the topic (other than the example above), and conduct a search using the steps outlined above. Document your search strategy and process, and discuss your results.

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Topic 5: Journals Related to Climate Change

The following journals are rich sources of information related to Climate Change:

In addition, the following journals may contain useful information related to Climate Change:

Exercise 5

1) Select five of the journals listed above. Using the Advaced Search mode of Google Scholar (, search for articles on Climate Change within each of the five journals. Narrow the search if you wish. [To access the Advanced Search, click the "More" drop-down menu at the top, and select "Advanced Search"]

Even if you don't have a subscription to the journals, what information is provided via Google Scholar? Look through the titles/abstracts of the articles in the five journals. How do the journals differ regarding the articles they contain? Did anything surprise you?

2) You have decided to submit an article to one of the journals above. Select two, and using the links above, look at instructions provided for authors. How are requirements similar and different? Based on information provided, to which journal would you submit your article? Why? What other questions would you want answered before submitting your article?

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Topic 6: Finding Other Information (data sets, images, maps, etc.)

The process of searching for information other than conventional literature, such as data sets, images, maps, etc., has its own set of challenges. Ways to find other information include searching specific web sites, contacting individuals or agencies, and as a last result, a general web search. Following are places to start looking for data sets or images:

Data Sets

Global Change Master Directory
World Data Center|
USGS Publications Warehouse
National Directory of Geoscience Data Repositories (physical data such as cores) [Link dead as of 16 Feb 2016]
NOAA Climate Data
National Climatic Data Center
Snow Climatology
Frozen Ground Data Center
Climate Timeline Tool
Ice Core Data
Ocean Drilling Data 
Climate Model Projections (USGS)

See also Access to Geoscience Data Sets > Quaternary and Climate Change Data


Search Google for Images
National Archive of Geological Photographs - British Geological Survey
USGS Photo Gallery - USGS
Visible Earth - NASA
FEMA Photo Library
GRIN (Great Images In NASA)
Geology by Light Plane - Louis J. Maher, Jr.
Imagebank; Earthscience World (AGI)
Images Canada - Natural Resources Canada
Image Gallery - EROS
Search Yahoo for images

Remember, you should get permission to use images. If you are having trouble finding what you need, try consulting a subject librarian and/or individuals in the discipline.

Exercise 6

Think of a research project in the area of Climate Change that would require data sets. Try to find out if such data exists. If not, how would you collect such data? Browse some of the resources above looking for images that could be used in relation to climate change. Summarize you observations in a page or less. (If you find good resources for data sets or images not listed above, please report them to: luraj at UIUC dot edu so that they can be added.)

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Topic 7: Use and Misuse of the Web for Technical Subjects

There is currently a lot of confusion about what "using the Web or Internet" for research means, especially now that many of the scholarly journals are available, full-text, via the Internet. Perhaps the easiest way to convey misuse of the Web for researching technical subjects is by giving a few examples.

Misuse of the Web:

Using Google or some other Internet browser to go on a treasure-hunt for information, and even worse...then cutting and pasting the information into a "paper" is an example of misuse of the Web. Much of the most useful, relevant technical information is currently part of the "Hidden Web". In other words, this information is not accessible by using the various Web browsers and search engines. For example, most of the scholarly journals that are online are available only by subscription, and therefore can't be fully accessed by Internet browsers.

If you begin your search for information by going to the Web, and then panic because you are not finding what you are misusing the Web.

If you are cutting and pasting information from the Web, no matter whether it is from electronic journals or not, and you are not using quotes and are misusing the Web and you are plagiarizing. Deliberate plagiarism is a serious academic offense.

Proper Use of the Web:

Generally, research for a paper should begin by using appropriate indexes such as GeoRef. Most indexes are now available electronically via the Web by subscription.

Many, if not most of the scholarly journals are now available full text via the Web by subscription. While it is best to start with a literature search using an electronic index, a secondary approach is to use the search function of a collection of high-quality, full-text, scholarly information such as ScienceDirect (Elsevier).

There is a huge amount of scholarly information, including data sets, on the Web. More is being added daily. It is usually not the place to start. Generally, this information should be used to supplement the resources found using the electronic indexes. This information may or may not be easily found with conventional Web browsers such as Google. Some of this type of information is being made more accessible by metadata harvesting projects. Knowing what agency, organization, institution or individual might generate this type of information will help in locating it.

Some Thoughts About Tools Such as Google Scholar, Scirus, Etc.

A few years back, librarians, with good cause, rather emphatically promoted the use of subscription-based online indexes (such as GeoRef or Web of Science) rather than using general web browsers such as Alta Vista or Google. More recently, choices are less clear. With the introduction of free web search tools such as Google Scholar, Scirus, and others, it is now possible to limit to more scholarly resources. Nevertheless, while these tools may be appropriate to rapidly find general information, or to find "three good references" for an undergraduate paper, at this point in time they are still not good substitutes for time-honored, subject specific indexes such as GeoRef, Web of Science, Compendex, etc. when conducting scholarly research at the graduate or professional level. The situation may change as tools evolve, but for the present time, upper division undergraduate students, graduate students, and professionals still need to learn how to efficiently use the well-known indexes. 

The proliferation of Open Access journals is also changing the climate (pardon the pun) of research. As more and more scholarly, peer reviewed Open Access journals become available, changes in methods of searching for information will likely be necessary. At least for a while, the search process may become more complex rather than simpler.

Final Thoughts on Proper Use of Information:

Possibly the most important part of a college education is learning to find, evaluate, interpret, organize, and communicate the technical information in your discipline. You will likely forget a large percentage of the material that you learn and then regurgitate for tests. Learning where and how to locate both forgotten and new information is imperative for success in your chosen field. Whether in academia, business, or industry, your success will be proportional to your ability to find the most accurate, appropriate, and current information, to understand it, and to effectively communicate it to others.

Finding, interpreting, organizing and communicating technical information are skills, and like all skills, are developed over time by practicing correct procedures. This applies to the use of both conventional literature found in journals, and other information found on the Web. Conducting a search of the literature using an index but without much thought to limiting the search, and then using the first few easily found articles whether they fit the topic and relate well or not is as much a misuse of information as treasure-hunting the Web. Another common misuse is to primarily use one journal article for a paper, and just add enough information from a few other articles to "meet the quota" of references. In the long run, individuals engaging in such lazy practices are cheating themselves, but they are also cheating those who will hire them, expecting that they will have developed information skills. They are also cheating the university that grants their degree since they will affect the image of the department, institution, and other graduates.

Exercise 7

Using a general Internet browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome (or something new) search "climate change". Leave that window open. Open a new window and search "climate change" in an online index such as GeoRef. If you don't have access to a scholarly online index such as GeoRef, then use Google Scholar. Discuss the differences in the search results of the two different searches (one page or less).

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Topic 8: Evaluating Information

Links to Discussions about Evaluation of Web Resources:

There are many excellent Web sites that cover Web Resource Evaluation. Rather than "recreate the wheel", here are a few of the many good sites:

Evaluating Information Found on the Internet - from The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University
Web Research Evaluation Checklist - University Libraries, University of Louisville
Evaluating Web Resources - University Libraries, State University of New York at Albany
Critically Analyzing Information Sources - Cornell University Library
Critical Evaluation of Resources - UC Berkeley Library
Evaluation of Information Sources (Links to other Web sites) - WWW Virtual Library

Things to Consider When Evaluating Web Resources:

   Sponsoring Organization
   Reference to Other Sources
Accuracy/ Verifiability/ Documentation
Objectivity/ Point of View/ Bias
Currency of Site
Scope/ Coverage/ Purpose/ Comprehensiveness/Suitability
Style/ Functionality

Exercise 8

Using a general Internet browser such as Internet Explorer or Google, search for information on Climate Change. Without thinking too deeply about it, pick five web sites, and using the information above, evaluate each web site.

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Topic 9: How to Read a Scientific Paper...

...or, how to get the gist of an article without reading every word

It is often unnecessary to read every word of an article. When starting a paper, while searching an index for literature, first scan the title. If the title indicates that the paper might be relevant, scan the abstract and print the citation if the abstract appears relevant (or email it to yourself, or add it to a reference system). From the list of citations, pick the most relevant articles and obtain copies.

When reading an article, first scan the abstract again to gain an understanding of what to expect from the paper. Read the introduction in detail. You may find general information in the introduction that is relevant to your paper even if the rest of the paper is only marginal to your topic. Then skip to the Discussion/Summary/Conclusions, and look at the tables, figures, images, and their captions. At this point you may have covered most of the pertinent material, but it is still wise to go back and scan the Methodology, Results, and Discussion sections, and to at least glance at the figures, tables, and graphs. If the article is central to your topic, you may need to go back and read the whole paper in detail, and look up any unfamiliar terms in a glossary. Through practice, you will learn what you need to look at in more detail, and what you can scan or skip altogether.

If you take notes while you read, make sure you also indicate the complete reference, including page numbers. There are few things more frustrating than trying to track back to find where you obtained a particular idea, quotation, or illustration. Illustrations are the most difficult to relocate.

Exercise 9

Search a narrower topic within Climate Change. (Provide your search terms.) Select three scholarly, peer reviewed articles. Using the methods provided in this topic, skim the three articles. Provide references for the three articles and discuss whether you would use each of the three articles for a paper on your topic. Why or why not?

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Topic 10: Reporting Information

Know the requirements (of the assignment or of the journal/editor)

It is not unusual for a student to forget the requirements of an assignment, or for a researcher/scholar to fail to comply with the detailed requirements of a publisher. This may impact the student's grade, and may create delays for an author. In the case of an author, this problem may surface most often when resubmitting a rejected paper to a second journal having different style and requirements.

Know the audience

Understanding the target audience for a paper or presentation is probably more problematic for students than for experienced researchers and scholars. For students giving presentations, is the audience the professor, fellow students, or an imaginary audience? An audience of mixed background is usually the most difficult for which to prepare. Make sure you discuss intended audience with your professor if you are not certain. Even experienced researchers and scholars occasionally miss the mark, so it is worthwhile to give some thought about the target audience for a presentation.

Places to publish

In the area of Climate Change, the journals listed in Topic 5 are good candidates for places to publish.

Ranking of Scholarly Journals

Individuals may be interested in the ranking of journals as they consider where to submit their articles. In particular, researchers in academic settings who are working toward tenure feel pressure to publish in the most prestigious journals. While seasoned researchers generally know which journals are considered primary for their particular field, those newer to a field may wish to include ranking data in their considerations. Ranking of scholarly journals is a controversial subject; not everyone subscribes to the methods used and results reported. Nevertheless, one of the more frequently used sources of journal ranking is Journal Citation Reports from ISI: <>. A subscription is necessary to access these reports. Check with your local academic library to see if they have access.

Other resources include looking to see where respected scholars and researchers publish their papers, and/or talking to respected authors in the discipline. See below for ways to find places to present papers.

The basic organization of a research article

Title: Usually a straightforward statement of the exact topic that was studied. Sometimes stated as a question.
Abstract: A summary of the most important points in the article, and usually one paragraph in length. It generally states the general purpose and relevant findings, and may summarize the procedures used.
Introduction: The beginning of the body of the article, generally a page or two in length. It introduces the topic and explains the purpose and significance of the research. 

[Think of the title, abstract, and introduction as opportunities to entice the reader to continue reading your paper.]

Review of the Literature: Identifies previous relevant research and relates it to the topic being studied. Often included in the introduction.
Research Question/Hypothesis: Why the research was initiated. Often a part of the introduction, at the end of the literature review.
Methodology/Procedures: Explains exactly how the research was conducted. Should be like a "recipe" for replicating the research. It may include an explanation of data acquisition, procedures, and data treatment.
Results: Explains what the researcher found by doing the study. Generally technical due to the use of statistics, tables and graphs, and jargon.
Discussion: Explains what the results mean and their significance. May be in three parts: Importance and utility of the results; problems and limitations; future research possibilities generated by the research.
Summary, and/or Conclusions: May be included with Discussion. Ties everything together and completes a circle with the introduction.
Acknowledgements: Gives credit to individuals who helped with technical or financial aspects of the research but were not coauthors of the paper.
References: An accurate and complete list of all literary resources used. All information necessary for finding the material should be included, and the references should adhere to a particular style for better communication.


It is sometimes useful to quickly consult the appropriate style guide, and then look for examples in the references from a few articles in the appropriate journal.

Style for GSA Geology
AGU Style Guide 
Nature style

Nature uses abbreviations for journal titles. If you don't know the proper abbreviation, try looking in the Web of Knowledge database (if your institution has a subscription) for example Journal of Geophysical Research: J. Geophys. Res., and then check Nature online to see if they use the same form.

Suggestions to Authors of the Reports of the United States Geological Survey
Citation Guides for Electronic Documents
Writing and Spreakiong Guidelines for Engineering and Science - Michael Ally, Penn State
References for Scientific Communication and Literary Style - from Dr. Steven Altaner, Geology Dept., UIUC

Using referencing/citing tools

There are now many good tools that can be used to create bibliographies, cite references while writing, and easily convert from one style to another. These include the following: RefWorks, EndNote, and ProCite. Some universities have group subscriptions to one or more of these tools. Check with your librarian.


Proper Referencing

The following resource was used for this section: How to Recognize Plagiarism, from Indiana University School of Education.

When do you need to provide a reference?

Give credit (cite/reference) whenever you use another person's ideas; when you use facts, statistics, illustrations or any information that is not common knowledge; when you paraphrase someone else's words or when you quote someone else's words.

When do you need to use quotes?

Use quotation marks or quotation blocks and credit the source when you copy exact wording, either written or spoken. Use your own words whenever possible.

Referencing illustrations

Full references should be given for illustrations that you use. If you use someone else's illustration in a publication, you usually must get permission from the author and/or publisher first. If you change someone else's illustration, give a complete reference to the original, and preface the citation with the word "after". For example, (After Smith 2003). Consult the appropriate style manual for instructions.

How to find opportunities to present papers

  • Most societies and associations have regular meetings during which papers are presented. Check the different society and association web sites to determine locations and dates of the next meetings, and whether they allow student presentations. Often, the papers from topical sessions are later published. Some of the societies and associations might be appropriate for presentations related to Climate Change include:
  • Check with one of your professors to see if there is a project you can work on that will result in an opportunity for you to present or be a co-presenter of a paper.
  • If your library has a subscription to PapersInvited, this online resource provides "Calls for Papers" from professional bodies, universities, journal editors and other conference organizers. It includes student competitions and student volunteer opportunities.
  • Some e-discussion lists ("listservs") post "calls for papers". Examples include:
    • AMQUA list <As of Winter, 2016, looking for a new home, since the IL State Museum closed> This list is an announcement-only list. Its purpose is to inform AMQUA members of important AMQUA news and activities. This list and the AMQUA Web site are the major modes of communication with AMQUA members. Non-members may subscribe to the list.
    • AQUAlist <>
    • Quaternary Listserver: listserv@CLIFFY.UCS.MUN.CA (subscribe quaternary your name)
    • Palynology Listserver: (subscribe polpal-l your-real-name)
    • Radiocarbon Dating Listserver: (SUBSCRIBE C14-L Your Name)
    • CataList - Directory of Listservs (There are a number listed that are related to Climate Change)
Tips for oral presentations

Cockerill, K and Wawrzyniec, T.F., 2001a, When presentations go bad: a commentary – Part I: GSA Today, v. 11, no. 2, p. 12-13.
Cockerill, K and Wawrzyniec, T.F., 2001b, When presentations go bad: a commentary – Part II: GSA Today, v. 11, no. 3, p. 24-25.

Tips on Talks or ... How to Keep an Audience Attentive, Alert and Around for the Conclusions at a Scientific Meeting (H. Edward Clifton)

How to Give a Speech - Henry H. Fisher
Ten Secrets to Giving a Good Scientific Talk
Making a Poster Using MS PowerPoint (ignore the parts that are institution or assignment specific)
Creating a Poster in Microsoft PowerPoint
Creating Effective Poster Presentations

Exercise 10

The time has come for your crowning achievement! Your mission (whether or not you accept it :-) is to prepare a paper and present it to your colleagues as though you are giving it at typical professional meeting such as American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, American Quaternary Association, etc. (consult the web page of the meeting you decide to mimic for instructions to presenters; state which meeting you will mimic). However, the technical level of your talk should be at a level that your colleagues will understand and enjoy.

1) Pick a topic related to Climate Change. Sufficiently narrow the topic. The topic should demonstrate Scientific Method rather than being merely descriptive or primarily applied science/technology. Clear your topic with your instructor. You should use current literature. It will be more interesting if the subject is somewhat controversial.

2) Your paper should have all of the parts of a typical scholarly article, as outlined above.

3) References & Style: You should use at least 3 articles from peer-reviewed journals. You must use a consistent style similar to AGU, GSA, Science, Nature, or some other scholarly journal (state the style that you are using & the journal to which you would submit the paper). You may have a primary reference, but the two other major references should not come from the primary paper. In other words, you should do some research and thinking on your own rather than simply presenting someone else's paper.

4) Prepare a 15 minute talk to present the information in your paper, again, as though you are presenting it to the meeting you have chosen. You must not go over the 15 minute time limit. You will have 5 minutes for questions and answers. You may use PowerPoint, if you wish. You must turn in your completed paper to the instructor at least a week before your talk. You must have a handout prepared for the class with title and abstract of your talk, and references used.

5) You are required to attend the presentations given by other students. You are expected to listen closely to the other presentations and to ask relevant questions at the end of talks. You will also be asked to "grade" each talk, and to give helpful feedback to the speaker regarding what worked and what could be done to improve the talk and handouts. Forms will be provided for the "grade" and feedback.

Your grade for this topic will represent 50% of your grade for this module, and will depend partly on your paper, partly on your presentation, and partly on your attention, participation, and questions relative to your colleagues' presentations. Your instructor will tell you the relative weight of each part relative to your grade for this topic.

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Additional Information

Books on Climate Change

Alley, Richard, B., 2002, The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future: Princeton University Press, 240 p. [ISBN: 0691102961]

Bradley, Raymond S., 2014, Paleoclimatology: Reconstructing Climates of the Quaternary, 3rd ed.: Academic Press, 696 p. [ISBN: 978-0123869135]

Broecker, Wallace S., 2012, How to Build a Habitable Planet; The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankindrevised and expanded editionPrinceton University Press736 p. [ISBN: 978-0691140063]

Cronin, Thomas M., 1999, Principles of Paleoclimatology: Columbia University Press, 592 p. [ISBN: 0231109547]

Crowley, Thomas J., and North, Gerald R., 1996, Paleoclimatology (Oxford Monographs on Geology and Geophysics): Oxford University Press, 360 p. [ISBN: 0195105338]

Lowe, J.J., and Walker, M.J.C., 2014, Reconstructing Quaternary Environments, 3rd ed.: Routledge568 p. [ISBN: 978-0131274686]

Roberts, Neil, 2014, 
An Environmental History, 3rd editionWiley-Blackwell376 p. [ISBN: 978-1405155212]

Ruddiman, William F., 2013, Earth's Climate: Past and Future, 3rd ed.: W. H. Freeman, 464 p. [ISBN: 978-1429255257]

Ruddiman, William F., 2005, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate: Princeton University Press, 272 p. [ISBN: 0691121648]

Ruddiman, William F., and Huntoon, Jacqueline E., 2002, EarthInquiry: Long-Term Climate Change (American Geological Institute): W. H. Freeman, 12 p. [ISBN: 0716749491]

Web Links

Understanding Climate Change - Geological Society of America
Climate Change and Its Potential Impacts on Tropical Cyclone Intensity and Frequency: A Bibliography of Scholarly Research - NOAA Miami Regional Library
State of the Arctic, October 2006 - NOAA
Arctic Report Card (2015) - NOAA 
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), “Climate Change 2007”:

  • Working Group I Report "The Physical Science Basis"
  • Working Group II Report "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability"
  • Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change"
  • Created 7/11/06
    Lura Joseph
    Associate Professor
    Content Access and Research Support Librarian
    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    [Former Petroleum Geologist (15 years) and
    former Geology Librarian (over 15 years)]

    Modified on: 16 Feb 2016 lej