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Milankovitch Cycles


These animations depict the three major Milankovitch Cycles that impact global climate, visually demonstrating the definitions of eccentricity, obliquity, and precession, and their ranges of variation and timing on Earth.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

The tilt of Earth’s axis relative to its orbit around the Sun results in predictable changes in the duration of daylight and the amount of sunlight received at any latitude throughout a year. These changes cause the annual cycle of seasons and associated temperature changes.
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Gradual changes in Earth's rotation and orbit around the Sun change the intensity of sunlight received in our planet’s polar and equatorial regions. For at least the last 1 million years, these changes occurred in 100,000-year cycles that produced ice ages and the shorter warm periods between them.
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Sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Because the earth turns daily on an axis that is tilted relative to the plane of the earth's yearly orbit around the sun, sunlight falls more intensely on different parts of the earth during the year. The difference in intensity of sunlight and the resulting warming of the earth's surface produces the seasonal variations in temperature.
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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

  • Students struggle to understand these concepts of precession, eccentricity, and obliquity; this animated visualization will help.
  • The quizzes that are included are either very simplistic or problematic to get correct answers to (this is particularly true for the one on obliquity cycles). However, the visualizations, although relatively old, are accurate and well-explained.

About the Science

  • Animations are provided of the three major Milankovitch Cycles that impact global climate, visually demonstrating the definitions of eccentricity, obliquity, and precession.
  • The visual exaggeration of cycles is enormous, but is acknowledged in text on the slides.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The activity is a good review/introduction of the concepts of Milankovitch cycles.
  • The questions posed along with the progression of the activity are a good check for understanding of the material.
  • Educator should define the term "insolation" prior to use.

About the Pedagogy

  • Tests of student knowledge and skills included in the tutorial range from simplistic to frustrating, as correct answers are not identified.
  • Students click through 9 slides, choosing buttons to change states, with occasional self-tests.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Easy to use. Animations, while not to scale, are accurate in their descriptions and get the job done. This should be an improvement over static diagrams for most students.

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