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Climate: A Balancing Act

The King's Center for Visualization in Science

In this activity students learn how Earth’s energy balance is regulating climate. This activity is lesson 4 in the nine-lesson module Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change.

Activity takes about 1-2 class periods, depending on age and background of students.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 6 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 9 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • The activity would benefit from educator interaction and group discussion at intervals to pose and answer questions, clarify visualizations, etc.
  • Educator could assign the activity for homework and use class time to focus on exploring the full capability of the applets.

About the Science

  • The main concept addressed with this activity is the energy balance and four main factors that affect Earth's energy balance and thus, global climate: incoming solar radiation, the albedo effect, the greenhouse effect, and outgoing radiation. The activity utilizes an applet that adjusts the four factors to explore the energy balance.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The interactive web tools for this activity are fun. For example the Planet builder. This will help students understand the Earth's radiation balance at a basic level. There are some concerns, specifically when the resource states that aerosols coalesce into raindrops. Aerosols can serve as CCN, around which water molecules can gather form cloud droplets, which are reflective in the visible spectrum.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is a carefully constructed, self-paced activity that walks students through Earth's energy balance using short text passages, pictures, graphs, two interactive applets, and questions.
  • The "Earth's Radiation Balance" applet is a useful tool that allows students to adjust parameters that affect the radiation balance, enabling students to understand how changing the parameters changes temperature at Earth's surface. There are questions built into the activity to assess students' understanding.
  • A teacher guide would be helpful, with responses to the questions posed to students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The activity is easy to follow.
  • The video quality (video provided in the introduction) is poor.
  • Though the applets are easy to follow, adjusting the parameters in the "Earth's Radiation Balance" applet can be difficult to get the right numbers, which may be frustrating for students.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS2-2: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.

HS-ESS2-4: Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 6

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

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-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.B1:Conservation of energy means that the total change of energy in any system is always equal to the total energy transferred into or out of the system.

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.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

Cross Cutting Concepts: 9

Patterns, Cause and effect, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Stability and Change

HS-C1.3:Patterns of performance of designed systems can be analyzed and interpreted to reengineer and improve the system.

HS-C1.4:Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns

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

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

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

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-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C6.1:Investigating or designing new systems or structures requires a detailed examination of the properties of different materials, the structures of different components, and connections of components to reveal its function and/or solve a problem.

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

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

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-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

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-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) 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.

HS-P8.2:Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.

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