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Predicting the Effects of Climate Change on Soil Loss

S. Fortner, M. Murphy, H. Scherer, INTEGRATE Project, SERC, Carleton College

In this activity, students investigate soil erosion and how a changing climate could influence erosion rates in agricultural areas. This activity is part of a larger InTeGrate module called Growing Concern.

Activity takes one 50-minute class plus 2 homework assignments.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 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

  • Includes good introduction to soil science and management, but could also be used as a wrap-up lesson as it integrates natural and human dimensions and decision-making.
  • This activity, like the others in its module, requires students to work cooperatively to consider complex issues from a systems perspective. This may be new for some students, and they may need more guidance from the instructor than is provided on the handouts. These activities are intended to give students a chance to think through the concepts on their own, so some of the questions are intentionally open-ended with multiple "correct" answers. It is important for the instructor to circulate and help students as they are working to alleviate frustration that can occur as a result of this type of work.

About the Science

  • Uses a box model to explore the link between climate change and agriculture, specifically erosion and crop yields.
  • Presents soil erosion as an interdisciplinary issue that is affected by natural processes and human activity and decision-making.
  • Good introduction to science of soil erosion through clear explanation and visuals.
  • Good introduction to predictive models.
  • Comments from expert scientist: It provides an overview of the Universal Soil Loss Equation and introduces the various parts. It is very important historically and relevant scientifically in many fields that deal with soil and land management.

About the Pedagogy

  • Uses systems thinking to allow students to investigate interactions between factors that contribute to soil erosion and their relationship to climate change.
  • Provides ample background information and a step-by-step guide to using the provided PowerPoint presentation as a classroom activity.
  • Activity is well designed for both student and instructor use. Separate instructor files are provided by registration.
  • Is one unit of a 6-unit module, but can be used as a stand-alone lesson as well.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The exercises where students are asked to move around are not really given as scientific. They seem more socially oriented, such as to discuss with a neighbor things seen in the pictures. It seems that more could be done with apparatus: measuring the properties of various soils, infiltration rates, porosity, composition. They could then be asked to hypothesize how things might change if the climate changed. In this way, they would learn how to apply scientific methods to the issue of erosion, and the factors affecting it, as it relates to agriculture and land management.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • All information is easily accessible and provided in Word documents or PowerPoint files. Do not need internet access to complete activity.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. http://pmm.nasa.gov/education/videos/science-hungry-world-agriculture-and-climate-change

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

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: 3

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

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.C1:The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Stability and Change

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

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-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

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-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: 8

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

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

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

HS-P4.4:Compare and contrast various types of data sets (e.g., self-generated, archival) to examine consistency of measurements and observations.

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-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

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-P7.2:Evaluate the claims, evidence, and/or reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments.

HS-P8.3:Gather, read, and evaluate scientific and/or technical information from multiple authoritative sources, assessing the evidence and usefulness of each source.

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