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Milankovitch Cycles Climate Applet

Tom Whittaker, University of Wisconsin

An applet about the Milankovitch cycle that relates temperature over the last 400,000 years to changes in the eccentricity, precession, and orbital tilt of Earth's orbit.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Instructor should take a few minutes to go over the directions below the applet.
  • Be sure to note that you can view the diagram from either the top or the side view.
  • Suggestion: first have students plot temperature data from the Vostok ice core (link on visualization page), and then use this applet to explore and 'test' the strength of various forcing cycles.

About the Science

  • Allows direct comparison, on a graph, between temperature data derived from the Vostok ice core and forcing from the major Milankovitch cycles, paired with animation of Earth's orbit, tilt, and precession over the last 400,000 years.
  • These cycles were first calculated by Serbian mathematician Milutin Milanković in the early 20th Century and are now well established as important factors that can drive long term climate processes. See: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/ctl/clisci100k.html#cycles
  • Because of the understanding of these cycles, climatologists are confident that recent warming is not being caused by such orbital cycles.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The Sun-Earth Geometry is nicely demonstrated
  • The change in Earth's orbit is not displayed. This is the key to Milankovitch Cycles.

About the Pedagogy

  • The direct comparison of the graph and animations allows different learning styles to engage simultaneously with the concepts.
  • Very good example to use to explain a difficult concept, especially to visual learners.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Applet loads quickly and plays fine on Firefox.
  • Requires Adobe Flashplayer.

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