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GISS Surface Temperature Analysis


This site provides a useful set of graphical representations of mean temperature change in different land/ocean surfaces over the past 120+ years.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educators can have students download the data to graph in Excel.
  • Discuss the meaning of "temperature anomaly."
  • Use one graph to describe to students (or ask them) what a running 5-year average means and why that is used on these graphs to illustrate trends in the data.
  • Two graphs show the dramatic differences between latitudinal bands (the band between 23.6 to 90 degrees N has been warming much faster than the rest of the globe since the 1970s, which could lead to discussion of Arctic amplification from decreased albedo due to loss of sea ice) and hemispheres (Northern Hemisphere has been warming much faster than the Southern Hemisphere since about 1990, which could lead to discussion of the southern oceans as a heat sink).

About the Science

  • Series of seven graphs displays temperature changes during the period 1880 to the present and are updated monthly.
  • Differences in the graphs are readily seen based on the temperature datasets used, such as both land and ocean temperature inputs, as opposed to only land-based meteorological stations. Other graphs highlight the differences by latitudinal bands (northern, low, southern) and hemispheres (northern and southern).
  • One of the more interesting is the "Annual Mean Temperature Change for Three Latitude Bands" figure.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
  • Scientific strengths: An excellent resource that allows students to analyze a multitude of different graphs and plots with data points included. The plots allow for a lot of discussion as they are all based around temperature change, but different time scales and locations.

About the Pedagogy

  • Graphs can be enlarged or downloaded as a PDF for closer study or for inclusion into reports.
  • Graphs are well labeled and accompanied by brief text. Students will need to understand terms such as "5-year running mean" and "anomaly."

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Graphs are also available as PDF, or Postscript, Also available are tabular data.

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