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Proxy Pals

Everything has a story

How do we know what past climates were really like?  Scientists look for the stories embedded in layers laid down in the past, in ice cores, lake and ocean sediments, tree rings, cave formations, and coral skeletons.  Layers in these places preserve proxies influenced by the climate of the time.  Researchers study the proxies to reconstruct ancient climates.  New techniques let researchers riffle through time not just century by century, but often year by year.

What kind of stories do proxies have to tell?

Find out in Proxy Pals, a series of trading game cards.  They introduce proxies that exist in ice, water, and sediments and encode specific information about past climates.  Just as they are in science, the proxies can be mixed and matched. The series includes a Tiny Life set and an Isotope set, with cards that relate to each other between sets.

What is a proxy, anyway?

A proxy is something that preserves a physical characteristic of the past.  You can measure it to infer the value of a variable in a past climate.  Basically, proxies encode the climatic conditions that prevailed during much of the Earth's history.

How can I get cards?

Cards go to students at schools especially selected to come visit INSTAAR and check out our labs.  Would you like a set too?  We have a few extras.  Send your name and address to with a request for number of sets.  Preference given to people developing games, kids under 18, classrooms, and libraries.  We'll send you decks if we've still got 'em.

What cards are in a set?

  • Critter cards: Shows a sketch of the proxy and the environments in which it's found; describes why it's significant and what time period it tells us about.
  • Cover cards: Introduce the set.
  • Category cards: Show the different types of critters in a set.
  • Environment cards: Show an environment where proxies are found (air, ice, lake, ocean, river, sediment).

Game challenge!

We have rules for two games that can be played with Proxy Pals.  But we think you can do better.  Request a set from, make a set of rules, and send it in.  The best game will be published and win a small, but cool, prize.

Thank you

  • Cassidy Robison, Artist, who drew all the characters and designed the cards.
  • Anne Jennings, Sylvia Michel, Owen Sherwood, Sarah Spaulding, and Bruce Vaughn, who selected species for their significance in the paleoclimate record and gave information for the card backs.


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