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Exploring NCAR Climate Change Data Using GIS

Jennifer Boehnert, Lawrence Buja, Constantin Cranganu, Cathy Reznicek, David Smith, Michele Thornton, Olga Wilhelmi, Earth Exploration Toolbook

This Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter uses ArcGIS and climate data from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Climate Change Scenarios GIS Data Portal to help users learn the basics of GIS-based climate modeling. The five-part exercise involves calculating summer average temperatures for the present day and future climate modeled output, visually comparing the temperature differences for the two model runs, and creating a temperature anomaly map to highlight air temperature increases or decreases around the world.

Activity takes three to five 60-minute periods. Computer access required.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
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Increased extreme weather events due to climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
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Human health and well-being will be affected to different degrees from the impacts from climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
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F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
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A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
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C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
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A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The instructions explain how to skip the download step in Part 1 and get the appropriate files directly.
  • Files are also available for the calculations steps in Parts 2 and 3.

About the Science

  • Activity is GIS-based climate modeling using NCAR climate scenarios and data.
  • The data sources are from simulations run on the Community Climate System Model (CCSM) for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report.
  • There is a compelling case study about the 2003 heatwave in France as well as links to important background materials to support the teaching of this lesson. It introduces this extreme event as one possible impact of the increasing mean air temperature in this century.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This is a well-constructed activity with teaching notes, step by step instructions, a case study, and links to numerous related resources, all of which are well-referenced. I think it is fantastic and might consider using it in my intro climate/paleoclimate course. Another strength of the activity is its attention to both averages and anomalies and their relevance in exploring questions about climate change.

About the Pedagogy

  • Highly structured exercise. Targeted to advanced students in the Earth sciences and geography. Students must be comfortable manipulating data and technical software tools.
  • The instructions are very thorough (including screenshots).
  • The resource can be used to develop skills in downloading simulation data from a web-based data portal and working with a geographic information system to perform calculations and create maps. Most of these steps can be skipped to focus on the temperature anomaly map.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Carefully constructed with show/hide options to provide reinforcement and support
  • A major issue is that this resource uses ESRI's ArcGIS 9.3 software running on the Windows operating system. You can request an evaluation DVD of ArcGIS 9.x from ESRI, but the software requirements will be a significant barrier for some users.
  • Teachers using this lesson need to be proficient in ArcGIS.

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