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Exploring Patterns: ENSO on the Global Stage

Cynthia M. Fadem, InTeGrate; SERC

In this activity, students analyze data maps of sea surface temperature anomalies for a 14-year interval and create an ENSO time line in a case study format. Based on their findings, students determine the recurrence interval of the ENSO system.

Activity takes about 30-40 minutes.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 3 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 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
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

  • In this activity, El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is explored through actual ocean surface temperature data, utilizing a time series of sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly maps to create an ENSO timeline.
  • References and resources from NOAA, NASA, etc. provide valuable background information in understanding the activity topic.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific Strengths:
    - Use of real, oceanographic data and maps
    - Plotting recurrence intervals
    - Addressing the difference between a regular SST plot and an SST anomaly plot
    - Only using SST instead of introducing more factors as part of ENSO

    - I think there needs to be a bit more of introduction of what conditions define an El Nino vs. what conditions define La Nina (if used as a stand-alone activity)

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity assumes prior knowledge of El Niño and ENSO (background materials and related learning materials are linked from the activity), and it helps students tie together their existing knowledge while gaining a deeper understanding for the ENSO and other cycles in the climate system.
  • This resource puts real data at the fingertips of the students and asks them to determine patterns from it. Some of the data can be challenging for students to interpret, but that is part of the value of the activity. Several suggestions are given for helping students work through ambiguities.
  • Student resources and an instructor's guide are provided. Assessment strategies and an answer key are provided. In many cases, the answers given by students will vary considerably, so the answer guide reflects this approach.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well thought out and carefully described. All of the materials are included and each step of the process is thoroughly documented.
  • Activity resources are available as both Word and PDF downloads.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Patterns, Systems and System Models

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

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

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-P6.1:Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables.

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