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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)

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Environmental observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system. From the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Sun, instruments on weather stations, buoys, satellites, and other platforms collect climate data. To learn about past climates, scientists use natural records, such as tree rings, ice cores, and sedimentary layers. Historical observations, such as native knowledge and personal journals, also document past climate change.
About Teaching Principle 5
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Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models that represent the climate system and make predictions about its future behavior. Results from these models lead to better understanding of the linkages between the atmosphere-ocean system and climate conditions and inspire more observations and experiments. Over time, this iterative process will result in more reliable projections of future climate conditions.
About Teaching Principle 5
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Energy Literacy

Fossil and bio fuels are organic matter that contain energy captured from sunlight.
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4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
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Various sources of energy are used to power human activities .
Social and technological innovation affects the amount of energy used by human society.
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6.5 Social and technological innovation.
Behavior and design affect the amount of energy used by human society.
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6.6 Behavior and design.
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Human use of energy.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.
Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow through the Earth system.
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Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow .

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
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Computer modeling explores the logical consequences of a set of instructions and a set of data. The instructions and data input of a computer model try to represent the real world so the computer can show what would actually happen. In this way, computers assist people in making decisions by simulating the consequences of different possible decisions.
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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

  • 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.

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