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How do Climate Models Work

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

This in-depth interactive slideshow about how climate models work is embedded with a lot of background information. It also describes some of the projected climate change impacts to key sectors such as water, ecosystems, food, coasts, health. (scroll down page for interactive)

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Simulation/Interactive supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Cross Cutting Concept, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 1 Science and Engineering Practice

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

  • Using this interactive may be a great way to introduce the concept of how models are used in science and the value of long-term observations to make predictions.
  • A simple chart that helps students identify what the scientist is trying to figure out, what a model is used for, and how a model is helpful in science, would be a good pre-viewing exercise.
  • A guide for students to use while they go through the slide-show and read the materials would be useful - something to hold the students accountable for reading the information and to help point out main ideas.

About the Science

  • A global climate model is a mathematical representation of the interactions between and within the ocean, land, ice, and atmosphere. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to increase unless the billions of tons of our annual emissions decrease substantially.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Hits the high points regarding climate modeling. For the most part, it's at a level understandable to a member of the general public. Explains natural variability, and why natural variability alone can not explain recent observed changes in climate. Mentions the Keeling Curve in the text (CO2 ppm since late 1950's), but there is no graphic for it. It is suggested to supplement this resource with that graphic.

About the Pedagogy

  • Teaching students about the value of models in scientific research is directly linked to how the nature of science works. This slideshow takes students through that process.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Clean, clear and easy to read and follow. Must be used online. Must scroll down on the main page since there are several visualization available.
  • For ease of use, make each topic its own page. For some students it might be overwhelming to have everything grouped together.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Simulation/Interactive supports:

Middle School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1

Systems and System Models

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Developing and Using Models

MS-P2.2:Develop or modify a model— based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.


High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-1: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

HS-ESS3-6: Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

HS-ESS3.D2:Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Systems and System Models

HS-C4.1:Systems can be designed to do specific tasks.

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.


Science and Engineering Practices: 1

Developing and Using Models


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