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Modeling Earth's Climate

The Concord Consortium

This climate change interactive modeling simulation simulates the interactions among different sets of variables related to climate change. This is a facilitated guided-inquiry exercise.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Airborne particulates, called "aerosols," have a complex effect on Earth’s energy balance: they can cause both cooling, by reflecting incoming sunlight back out to space, and warming, by absorbing and releasing heat energy in the atmosphere. Small solid and liquid particles can be lofted into the atmosphere through a variety of natural and man-made processes, including volcanic eruptions, sea spray, forest fires, and emissions generated through human activities.
About Teaching Principle 2
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The interconnectedness of Earth’s systems means that a significant change in any one component of the climate system can influence the equilibrium of the entire Earth system. Positive feedback loops can amplify these effects and trigger abrupt changes in the climate system. These complex interactions may result in climate change that is more rapid and on a larger scale than projected by current climate models.
About Teaching Principle 2
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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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Scientists have conducted extensive research on the fundamental characteristics of the climate system and their understanding will continue to improve. Current climate change projections are reliable enough to help humans evaluate potential decisions and actions in response to climate change.
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Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
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4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
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 .
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.
The effects of changes in Earth's energy system are often not immediately apparent.
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2.7 Effects of changes in Earth's energy system .

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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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.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

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

  • Educator will need to work with this model thoroughly before asking students to use the simulation.
  • It might be good to include a lesson period that focuses on solutions after teaching about climate modeling. The questions the students ask in the video demonstrate that the scenarios described by climate scientists cause anxiety.
  • Run the simulation with the entire class before letting them use the simulation by themselves. Use this time to discuss what the yellow and red arrows represent and their behavior. Will also need to have a discussion about aerosols from erupted volcanoes.
  • Good for professional development of teachers.

About the Science

  • Interactive modeling activity simulating the interactions among different sets of variables: carbon dioxide vs temperature; carbon dioxide, water vapor, and temperatures; cloud cover, carbon dioxide, and temperature; and human GHG emissions, GHGs, and temperatures. There is a temperature anomaly time-series video from 1800 to 2000 and a video of a lecture to a science class by a paleoclimatologist.
  • No original data or links to the algorithms that went into the model are provided.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Simple climate model lets students experiment with the influence of different parameters and the guiding questions prompt students to experiment with the model. Video is well done for target audience
  • Educator will need to work with this model thoroughly before asking students to use the simulation.
  • See Oct 2012 "Science Teacher" -modeling climate change article.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Model lacks a key that explains what the different parts of the model stand for. It is straightforward to figure out what is meant by the pictograms, but it would be good for the educator to produce a legend and hand it out to students.

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