« CLEAN Climate Complexity Workshop 2012 Discussions

Ideas for group projects  

Starting on Friday we will break out into groups for our writing project. So, before we can break out into groups we need to have a list of topics. Then you'll be able to sign up for the topic that appeals to you. Let's use this thread to generate a list of topics. You will not be committed to working on any topic that you suggest! All we need at this stage is a solid list of ideas.

Remember, we want the topics to fall under the climate literacy principle 2.

Teaching Essential Principle 2:
Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.

a. Earth's climate is influenced by interactions involving the sun, ocean, atmosphere, clouds, ice, land, and life. Climate varies by region as a result of local differences in these interactions.

b. Covering 70% of Earth's surface, the ocean exerts a major control on climate by dominating Earth's energy and water cycles. It has the capacity to absorb large amounts of solar energy. Heat and water vapor are redistributed globally through density-driven ocean currents and atmospheric circulation. Changes in ocean circulation caused by tectonic movements or large influxes of fresh water from melting polar ice can lead to significant and even abrupt changes in climate, both locally and on global scales.

c. The amount of solar energy absorbed or radiated by Earth is modulated by the atmosphere and depends on its composition. Greenhouse gases— such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane— occur naturally in small amounts and absorb and release heat energy more efficiently than abundant atmospheric gases like nitrogen and oxygen. Small increases in carbon dioxide concentration have a large effect on the climate system.

d. The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is controlled by biogeochemical cycles that continually move these components between their ocean, land, life, and atmosphere reservoirs. The abundance of carbon in the atmosphere is reduced through seafloor accumulation of marine sediments and accumulation of plant biomass and is increased through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels as well as through other processes.

e. 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 manmade processes, including volcanic eruptions, sea spray, forest fires, and emissions generated through human activities.

f. 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.


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Topic 2b - Design a jigsaw activity which has students first working in small "expert" groups looking at data or trends of one specific aspect of how the ocean affects climate than then disperse these "expert" groups and reform interdisciplinary groups and ask them to develop a generalized explaination/theory on how the ocean affects climate.


Share edittextuser=5296 post_id=19899 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=5897

Excellent idea Erik. The oceans play a role in so many ways; a jigsaw-style group activity is a good way to address that breadth.

Thanks for getting the ball rolling. Other ideas?


Share edittextuser=24 post_id=19920 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=5897

2d--a case study that leads students through some of the examples David Archer or Richard Alley gave us about the relationship of CO2 (or other GHG) and temperature. For example, discuss data available from the end-Permian Great Dying and ask students to hypothesize causes (they can come up with volcanism based on H2S levels). This might be too complicated--I'm not sure that in the intro-level courses I teach that students could come up with appropriate explanations without a lot of hand-holding.


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A much simpler idea that could be used for any subtopic--concept maps as pre- and post-tests. Expect to see greater numbers of ideas and appropriate connections among them in post-tests. These would have to be heavily "guided," i.e. by giving instructions like, "connect seashells with atmospheric carbon levels," or "choose at least 10 appropriate items from this list of 20 and draw a concept map." Others who use concept maps more probably have better ideas about how to guide students and how they could be used and improved/added to within the classroom.


Share edittextuser=8930 post_id=19965 initial_post_id=0 thread_id=5897

Great idea Andrea. What about providing data on several of these factors and ask students to graph it, overlay various graphs, and develop their own theories/explanations based or causal relationships?


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Ask students to identify forcing factors in the climate system so that they can develop their own understanding of Alley's big/small knob approach. They could brainstorm the forcing factors, and then rank them in terms of importance as a think-share-pair.


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This post was edited by Kit Pavlekovsky on Jul, 2012
I like those improvements on the idea!

Also, I was just listening to Niebert with his boxes of pingpong balls, and it reminded me of a ProjectWet activity in which the students are the water molecules proceeding through the water cycle. At each station (reservoir) they roll a die that tells them either to stay or which reservoir to move to next. It is set up with some level of accuracy, so the die at the ocean has more sides that say "stay," and the die at the groundwater tells them to move to the plants or to percolate or whatever. Of course, it's intended for elementary and middle school kids, but college students like it too because it's different, and active, and they can be a little silly. Here is a link with some more information www.montana.edu/wwwwet/journey.html. Maybe someone has already done something like this with the C cycle, or maybe the project could even be to have college students develop the activity based on reading about fluxes and so on.


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One of the things I use to show interconnectedness is a series of photographs showing refugees in Darfur and associated poor farming practice, pictures of dust storms off the Sahara, coral decline in the Caribbean, and asthma rates in Atlanta. I would like to have the students come up with some of their own connections. Any ideas?


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This is a little wordy, my apologies!
What Makes a Car Go? I use this strategy in my presentations: get students/audience to think about the climate system like a modern, gas combustion car – both are very complicated with thousands of moving parts. What is the most significant piece of a car that helps “make it go”? Some people may look at the car and say “Wheels – you need wheels to make a car go”. Another person will look at the same car and say: “Wheels? You’re not getting anywhere without an engine”. Yet a third person will look at the car and say “Wheels and an engine are good, but gasoline is what makes a car go”. And so on. Of course a car needs all these things to make it work, just like the climate needs the sun, oceans, atmosphere, clouds, ice, etc. to make it work. But the most influential piece that “makes a car go” is the human behind the wheel driving it, much like climate change today. People are the primary drivers of cars, and of the current climate changes we are seeing by injecting greenhouse gases including 197 billion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere every day of the year (2010 stats). Scientists aren’t saying that the sun, oceans, volcanoes, etc. aren’t influencing climate today, of course these things do. What they are saying is that people have moved from a passenger seat, into the driver’s seat as far as being the most influential driver of climate change today. Whereas in the past at certain times, those other climate influencers have been in the driver’s seat driving climatic changes, today - people have taken over as far as being the most influential piece of the puzzle that is driving current climate changes.


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This post was edited by Christof Zweifel on Jul, 2018
I like all of these ideas. I'm writing my final exam might now and might snag part of Beth's. That's a great way to the topics. And I like the car idea too. I sometimes ask students to compare the human body to the climate system. What it need to operate, keep our T regulated and the step function of what happens when it gets out of balance. I like it, in part because of the complexities we are continually learning about, and we're learning more about the climate system. Biologist (scientists) sometime come under attack too, because they're "always changing their mind."

Re the Project Wet water cycle. They have a C cycle also. I usually use a version of the “Incredible Journey” by Jennifer Ceven, Project Wet. It’s a bit young for college students, but it’s clear. Depending upon the class you can enhance it by asking about the form of C that’s being moved around and/or how the movement is occurring. (//www.goerie.com/nie/lessonplans/010411.pdf) Arizona State has a C board game that looks interesting. I just found it when trying to find a link for the "Incredible Journey," and have never used it. Has anyone used either of these activities?


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I have not used the games Suzanne mentions, but I have used the BBC climate challenge game as a way to illustrate the many levels of decision making that goes into climate policy.


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My project is a little offbeat. I work in an informal science setting, and I'd like to develop a really fun way to learn about how climate models work and why they are important. I have a kernel of an idea of leveraging more popular conceptions of 'models' (think: fashion), and having a workshop in which people learn about models, make outfits that express their understanding, and wrap up with a fashion show to share out to others. I'm still early in the conception stage, so please suggest some ways to make this a reality!


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I have an idea for a project that is really just forming. It has students examining and comparing several climate records. I was thinking that I might want them to produce a concept map chronology of climate at different points in history or in different locations. Perhaps this activity for intro. climate students could examine the keeling curve, mann's hockey stick (land & ocean or keep them separate to show variability), and maybe some tree ring records & volcano indices. just an idea in progress.


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I'n intrigued with the idea of helping students understand feedback loops, particularly with regard to hitting tipping points. And, I love playing with Excel. This leads me to the general idea of designing a spreadsheet that (very crudely) calculates changes in the earth's temperature as a function of a handful of GHGs and includes a few feedback loops related to albedo effects or other relatively easily understood feedback loops. My initial thought would be to set up a table in Excel with time (years) down one column from 2015-2100 (for example), toss in several columns of variables (that have adjustable "degrees of feedback" that can be either positive or negative, that students can adjust through variables at the top of each column), and then have a final column that calculates an average earth's temperature (which can also be easily plotted). One could also include a "tipping point" limit. Then, students could play with the variables to determine if and when the tipping point is reached. So I suppose that this mimics an incredibly crude GCM (but with no "regions", except perhaps with variables for ocean vs ice vs land for albedo effects.)


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Beth, there was a great piece on the Colbert Report years ago about how Americans wanting to wear cashmere was increasing air pollution in LA. It was because populations of goats were having to be increased to meet the market need and they were causing erosion and dust, which was blowing across the Pacific.


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Awesome connection, Andrea. Thanks!


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« CLEAN Climate Complexity Workshop 2012 Discussions