EarthLabs for Educators > Climate and the Biosphere

Climate and the Biosphere: Unit Overview

The lab activities in this module were developed by Betsy Youngman of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Why Teach about Climate and the Biosphere?

Climate shapes the natural environment in which we live. Imagine the glossy photographs that you see in a travel magazinehot sunny beaches, cool moist jungles, icy alpine slopes; the flora and fauna in each of these places is shaped by the local climate. Climate also has a significant influence on the way in which we lead our lives, from the kinds of homes we build, to the clothing we buy; from the activities we pursue, to the economy of our society. Climate results from a highly complex set of interactions between the Sun and multiple components of the Earth system, interactions that we can't always see and that many poorly understand. All across the planet scientists have collected enough data to establish without a doubt that the climate of a given location and, in fact, the climate of the planet also varies across time. Now with significant evidence that humans can alter components of the Earth system that shape climate, it is essential that everyone have a deeper understanding of weather, climate, the difference between the two, and the ways in which Earth's natural systems interact to form our weather and our climate.

Why use this set of lessons?

The Labs presented in this unit on climate and weather include student readings, hands-on investigations, videos, animations, data analysis, and models that students explore to help them understand the ways in which energy from the Sun interacts with Earth's systems at global, regional, and local scales to give Earth its varied climates. Another key idea of the module is the multiple time scales at which climate operates, from predicable seasonal and annual cycles to cycles that last for tens of thousands of years and cause dramatic changes to life on Earth via glaciations, changes in sea level, and other long-term effects.

Key questions addressed by this unit include:

Before starting this unit

  1. Read the Lab Overviews section, which identifies all of the materials you'll need to gather and provides a quick scope and sequence of the unit.
  2. If you have not already done so, please read the Climate Series Introduction.
  3. Install and Practice using new software and tools.


The resources below provide important general background information relevant to this module and to the entire set of Climate EarthLabs modules. More specific materials are listed in the teacher pages.

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