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Climate Variability in the North Atlantic

Cindy Shellito, University of Northern Colorado, InTeGrate, SERC

In this activity, students examine climate variability in the North Atlantic associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NOA) in a case study format.

Activity takes about 30-60 minutes.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 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

About the Science

  • Activity addresses climate variability of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NOA) and the cause-effect relationship between North Atlantic pressure anomalies and precipitation on the Iberian Peninsula.
  • These topics help students learn how climate in one location can be affected by distant events.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths are:
    - The focus on positive and negative anomalies
    - Connecting the difference between pressure systems and precipitation (see comments below)
    - Interpretation of lat/longs and scales
    - Great lead-in into other subjects about weather patterns (ENSO)
    A few suggestions:
    - I know it might sound obvious, but when I taught this subject to upper-division science undergraduates, they had the hardest time understanding that pressure was atmospheric pressure and not water pressure... so that should be emphasized
    - I'd love to know what time period the long term mean is derived from
    - This is a GREAT connecting question: 12) Hypothesize a physical mechanism that might explain a connection between anomalous pressure and precipitation. How does pressure affect precipitation?
    - However, I think its really tough and unless the students have a meteorological background they will need a pre-question about precipitation patterns from high and low pressure systems (low pressure --> air rises --> condenses --> precipitation) a visual would be very helpful, too:
    - Note that the link on the first slide of the PowerPoint does not work (http://nomad3.ncep.noaa.gov/ncep_data/index.html)

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity walks students through a data set depicting climate variability in the North Atlantic associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NOA). Students examine anomalies of precipitation and pressure over a 10-year period, create a chart showing the movement of these anomalies over this time period, and answer questions about the relationship between North Atlantic pressure anomalies and precipitation on the Iberian Peninsula.
  • Students gain practice at reading contour plots, finding relationships in data, working in small groups, and expressing their findings in written or oral format.
  • A student guide that walks students through the data displays is well structured and easy to follow. An answer "sheet" is provided for the instructor.
  • Assessment ideas are included.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well thought out and carefully described. Each step of the process is thoroughly documented.
  • Link provided in PowerPoint to source of dataset not functional as of May 2016 review - has likely been moved; dataset for period 1993-2003.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Patterns, Cause and effect

HS-C1.1:Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

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-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.

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