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Unit 3 Anomalous Behavior

Cynthia M. Fadem, Earlham College (fademcy@earlham.edu)

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: Jun 24, 2014

Summary

In this unit students explore the El NiñoSouthern Oscillation (ENSO) system as a pattern of ocean-atmosphere behavior. The activities require them to engage in analysis of ocean surface maps and reflect on the impacts of ocean surface oscillations on humans. The instructor can utilize the teaching collection here as a stand-alone day of instruction or as part of the complete Climate of Change InTeGrate Module.

Learning Goals

Unit 3 Teaching Objectives
  • Cognitive/Propositional: Provide an understanding of ocean-atmosphere interaction, including the mechanics of ENSO and NAO.
  • Behavioral/Practical: Enable the prediction/projection of change in a system, analysis of real oceanographic data, and application of basic quantitative skills.
  • Experiential: Provide opportunities for reflection on the nature of ocean surface oscillations and on the science that provides the basis for our understanding of these phenomena. Affectively engage in the impacts of ocean surface oscillations.

Unit 3 Learning Outcomes

  • Lecture Instruction/Preparatory Reading
    • Explain ocean-atmosphere interactions, including the mechanics of the ENSO.
    • Diagram an El Niño event.
    • Recall examples of how ocean surface oscillations impact ecosystems and people.
  • Case Study 3.1
    • Predict the local effects of La Niña based on the mechanics of El Niño.
    • Create precipitation intensity maps for the three states of the ENSO.
    • Predict the regional coastal effects of ENSO based on its mechanics.
    • Consider the global effects of ENSO and its potential long-term impacts.
  • Case Study 3.2
    • Read global sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly maps.
    • Assess the state of the ENSO from SST anomaly maps.
    • Create a time line of changes in ENSO conditions.
    • Assess the recurrence interval of the ENSO system.

Context for Use

This unit is designed to function as one day of instruction in an introductory geology, meteorology, geography, or environmental science class. The lecture is customizable for different teaching needs (see notes below), and the activities can be done in class, completed together as a lab, or completed as part(s) of a lab, depending on time and topical needs. As a stand-alone teaching collection, it communicates information about ENSO in lecture instruction, introduces La Niña based on the basic mechanics of El Niño, builds knowledge of ENSO precipitation patterns, and links ocean surface anomalies to coastal and global impacts. In the Climate of Change InTeGrate Module, it follows the exploration of Pacific and Atlantic Ocean surface data in Unit 2 and precedes analysis of the Greenland ice sheet and connections between the ocean surface and glaciers in Unit 4.

Description and Teaching Materials

The materials for this unit include a student reading, lecture, activities, and study guide. The lecture is optional. I recommend assigning the reading as preparation for class and using the lecture to lead a short discussion (or debrief students without the lecture) before beginning the activities in case students have questions on the reading. I designed the activities to develop understanding of ENSO and guide reflection. You can implement them in class, in lab, or as homework. I recommend that you complete at least one in class if you assign one as homework, so the students have an understanding of how to complete the tasks.

Unit 3 Lecture
Click to view

Teaching Notes and Tips

Some students will find these processes difficult to comprehend.

  • Assure them that these phenomena are not completely straightforward.
  • Emphasize simple cause-effect and first principles relationships.
  • Provide resources to students (videos, animation, and tutorials) to walk them through these processes in different ways.
There are many resources listed below and on the associated activity pages to help you help your students conceptualize the oscillation.

Assessment

The activities can be used formatively or summatively, although I recommend at least one be formative, so that students can develop their understanding, ask questions, and learn by trial in class with you and their peers. I conduct the activities as in-class group work, but they could be individual as long as students are provided enough reference material.

Summative assessment questions:

What is La Niña and why does it occur? Draw a diagram to illustrate your explanation and give an example of how La Niña has impacted people in a particular place and time.

Does this ocean surface anomaly map display El Niño, ENSO normal, or La Niña conditions, and how do you know? Where will precipitation fall if these anomalous temperatures remain in place?

ENSO can become part of the geologic record through

A. flooding that leaves behind sediment deposits

B. flooding that scours away sediment deposits

C. drought-induced fires, which leave behind burnt soils and sediments

D. both A & C

E. no known means

Of the following, all are components of ENSO except

A. sea surface temperature

B. trade winds

C. jet stream

D. upwelling

E. thermocline

Student Self-Assessment

To provide an opportunity for students to reflect on what they have learned in Unit 3 (and Unit 2, as well, if that was done prior to Unit 3), at the end of this unit, ask students to write on an index card one thing that they feel they have learned in this unit, or that seems particularly clear, and one thing that still seems confusing, unclear, or incomplete. Collect the cards, and use them to determine what aspects of the topic might need to be revisited in another class.

Students can also test their knowledge by completing the Unit 3 outcome tasks. These can be adapted in Blackboard/Moodle to a quiz or set of open-ended questions.
  • Understand the mechanics of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.
  • Diagram an El Niño event.
  • Recall examples of how ocean surface oscillations impact ecosystems and people.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »