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Modeling Early Earth Climate with GEEBITT

Cindy Shellito, On the Cutting Edge Collection - Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College

Students gain experience using a spreadsheet and working with others to decide how to conduct their model 'experiments' with the NASA GEEBITT (Global Equilibrium Energy Balance Interactive Tinker Toy). This activity helps students become more familiar with the physical processes that made Earth's early climate so different from that of today. Students also acquire first-hand experience with a limitation in modeling, specifically, parameterization of critical processes.

Activity takes one 50-minute class period. Computer access and special software is required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
Other materials addressing:
F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
Other materials addressing:
B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
Other materials addressing:
C) Energy.

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

About the Content

  • Students use a simple spreadsheet climate model to explore how solar luminosity, albedo, and an atmospheric greenhouse gas loading parameter affect the global mean surface temperature in different climate regimes (Modern, Archean, Neoproterozoic).
  • This activity has students explore model scenarios; real and recent data can be added to the activity by the instructor.
  • The two science articles from Scientific American are excellent.
  • GEEBITT is a 1-dimensional energy balance model that calculates global mean surface temperature, based on a planet’s distance from the sun, solar luminosity, global albedo, and a parameterized ‘greenhouse-factor’ (called ‘GHF’ in the activity).
  • Comments from expert scientist: Great exposure to a relevant model. Also allows students to play with the model and investigate several interesting climate questions.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students work in teams of 2 or 3 to conduct a series of computer experiments with the simple spreadsheet model, collect and evaluate data, and then share their results in a class discussion.
  • If class time is short, the class may be divided into three groups, with each group focusing on a different time period (Modern, Archean, Neoproterozoic). At the end of the class, each group can share their results and insights with the class as a whole.
  • This resource may be difficult to do without a familiarity with a number of topics (clarified in the instructions). The readings will help students better understand the the parts of Earth's history that are featured in the activity.
  • Students should be comfortable with using spreadsheets (such as Excel) and spreadsheet models.
  • It would be helpful for teachers to review some of the formulas in the spreadsheet.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • There are two assigned readings from Scientific American that should be linked from the activity for easy access: When Methane Made Climate and Snowball Earth.
  • Activity handout and instructors notes are provided but the instructions are not as detailed as many educators and students might need.
Entered the Collection: June 2013 Last Reviewed: September 2016

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