Jump to this Activity »
Climate Variability in the Equatorial Pacific

Cindy Shellito, University of Northern Colorado, InTeGrate, SERC

In this activity, students work with climate data from the tropical Pacific Ocean to understand how sea-surface temperature and atmospheric pressure affect precipitation in the tropical Pacific in a case study format.

Activity takes about one 30-minute class session.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2b
Definition of climate and climatic regions
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4a
Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4c
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Energy Literacy

Water plays a major role in the storage and transfer of energy in the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.4 Water stores and transfers 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

  • It would be useful for instructors to show a larger map (that includes the continents) in the very beginning of the unit so students can better visualize the part of the ocean the activity is focused on.
  • This activity can be taught in a jigsaw format, with different groups of students examining separate types of data, and then sharing their findings. Alternatively, educators can skip the jigsaw format and have the students look at all three data types.
  • This activity can be paired with Case Study 2.2 in this unit, https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/climate_change/casestudy2-2.html
  • This activity can be used prior to an introduction to the El Niño - Southern Oscillation, which is Unit 3 in this module https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/climate_change/unit3.html.
  • Suggestions to the instructor are included in the activity overview.

About the Science

  • This activity engages students in examining tropical Pacific pressure, sea-surface temperature, and precipitation data over a 10-year time span.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Excellent educational resource on all levels.
    - Relevant to today's biggest issues
    - Requires a strong sense of interpretation of widely-used data
    - Requires communication between group members and classmates
    - Interpretations of both means and anomalies is great - definitely want to discuss with the class the differences between the two and where they are derived from
    Suggestion: In my experience teaching ENSO material, it was really important to clarify that pressure is ATMOSPHERIC pressure...

About the Pedagogy

  • This exercise helps students become familiar with the idea that scientists learn about relationships in the climate system by looking at changes in the oceans and atmosphere over a period of years.
  • Students are engaged with map-based data plots and a set of questions that help them work through the meaning of the plots.
  • Students show their understanding of the concepts by completing a set of questions and by debriefing the class on their findings. An answer key is provided.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well thought out and carefully described. Each step of the process is thoroughly documented.
  • Handouts are clearly presented and easy to follow. Teaching notes accompany the activity.
  • Data is presented in PowerPoint form and can be either projected or printed.

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

This activity is part of a larger unit on climate change called Climate of Change: Interactions and Feedbacks between Water, Air, and Ice.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

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

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.

Jump to this Activity »