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What is the Future of Earth's Climate?

The Concord Consortium

This is a series of 5 guided-inquiry activities that examine data and models that climate scientists use to attempt to answer the question of Earth's future climate.

The activities require about 45 min each.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 3 Performance Expectations, 7 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 15 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 3 Performance Expectations, 12 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 10 Cross Cutting Concepts, 10 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d
Role of aerosols in climate system
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2e
Equilibrium and feedback loops in climate system
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2f
Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c
Climate models are robust enough to be used for guiding decision and actions as response to climate change
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5e

Energy Literacy

Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

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 should run the interactive model in the second activity with the entire class before letting them use it by themselves. Use this time to discuss what the yellow and red arrows represent and their behavior. Educator will also need to have a discussion about aerosols from erupted volcanoes.
  • Good for professional development of teachers.

About the Science

  • Focus of activity is the interactions among temperature, GHG concentrations, solar energy, feedbacks, and change over time as key factors in determining Earth's climate.
  • No original data or links to the algorithms that went into the interactive model are provided.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activities are all online, and student responses to questions posed in each activity can be entered and saved as they go, provided student is registered in the project portal (free).
  • Working through the 5 activities, students explore interactions among factors that affect Earth's climate, using graphed data, an interactive model, and a taped interview with a climate scientist, to learn how scientists use historical data and Earth system interactions to make predictions about climate in the future.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This set of activities runs entirely in a Web browser. Preferred browsers are: Google Chrome (versions 5 and above), Safari (versions 4 and above), Firefox (version 3.6.10 and above), and Internet Explorer (version 7, 8, or higher; note that version 6 or below does not work).

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 3

MS-LS1-6: Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.

MS-ESS2-6: Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.

MS-ESS3-5:Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 7

MS-PS3.D1:The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur. In this reaction, carbon dioxide and water combine to form carbon-based organic molecules and release oxygen.

MS-PS3.D2:Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials.

MS-PS3.A3:Temperature is a measure of the average kinetic energy of particles of matter. The relationship between the temperature and the total energy of a system depends on the types, states, and amounts of matter present.

MS-PS4.B1:When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the frequency (color) of the light.

MS-PS4.B2:The path that light travels can be traced as straight lines, except at surfaces between different transparent materials (e.g., air and water, air and glass) where the light path bends.

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

MS-ESS2.D3:The ocean exerts a major influence on weather and climate by absorbing energy from the sun, releasing it over time, and globally redistributing it through ocean currents.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Systems and System Models, Stability and Change, Cause and effect

MS-C4.1: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

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.

MS-C4.3:Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

MS-C7.4:Systems in dynamic equilibrium are stable due to a balance of feedback mechanisms.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 15

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P2.1:Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.

MS-P2.3:Use and/or develop a model of simple systems with uncertain and less predictable factors.

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

MS-P2.6: Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.

MS-P2.7:Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

MS-P6.3:Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

MS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

MS-P1.2:ask questions to identify and/or clarify evidence and/or the premise(s) of an argument.

MS-P1.3:Ask questions to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables and relationships in models.

MS-P1.4:Ask questions to clarify and/or refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.

High School

Performance Expectations: 3

HS-ESS2-6: Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

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: 12

HS-PS3.A1:Energy is a quantitative property of a system that depends on the motion and interactions of matter and radiation within that system. That there is a single quantity called energy is due to the fact that a system’s total energy is conserved, even as, within the system, energy is continually transferred from one object to another and between its various possible forms.

HS-PS3.A2:At the macroscopic scale, energy manifests itself in multiple ways, such as in motion, sound, light, and thermal energy.

HS-PS3.D1:Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

HS-PS4.A1:The wavelength and frequency of a wave are related to one another by the speed of travel of the wave, which depends on the type of wave and the medium through which it is passing.

HS-PS4.B2:When light or longer wavelength electromagnetic radiation is absorbed in matter, it is generally converted into thermal energy (heat). Shorter wavelength electromagnetic radiation (ultraviolet, X-rays, gamma rays) can ionize atoms and cause damage to living cells

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS2.D2:Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen.

HS-ESS2.D3:Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.

HS-ESS2.E1:The many dynamic and delicate feedbacks between the biosphere and other Earth systems cause a continual co-evolution of Earth’s surface and the life that exists on it.

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.D1:Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts.

HS-LS1.C1:The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus released oxygen.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 10

Patterns, Cause and effect, Systems and System Models, Stability and Change

HS-C1.1:Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

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.

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 10

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P1.1:ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

HS-P1.4:ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem

HS-P2.2:Design a test of a model to ascertain its reliability.

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P6.1:Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables.

HS-P6.3:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

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