Arctic Climate Curriculum, Activity 3: Exploring Arctic Climate Data
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
The activity that precedes this in the sequence provides a logical lead-in to this activity.
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
- List surfaces that have high and low albedo and explain why.
- Calculate albedo from incoming/outgoing radiation data.
- Use known values for albedo to see if their calculated values make sense.
- Create graphs in Excel.
- Use the graphs to examine the reasons for the melting of the snowpack.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
- Explain how warming temperatures triggers melting.
- Explain the way in which albedo acts as a feedback mechanism for warming and melting.
- Understand the role decreasing albedo has on the global climate.
Other skills goals for this activity
- Creating graphs in Excel
Description of the activity/assignment
Next, students dive into the datasets using Excel. Using step-by-step instructions and screen shots students create line graphs of springtime temperature, snow depth and albedo. Once the graphs are plotted, students can see the relationship between these three parameters and can explain why the snow depth decreases rapidly.
Students then create a concept sketch and a write short essay to synthesize what they have learned about albedo and how it relates to climate.
The final part of the activity uses paired imagery from the Arctic to compare changes in albedo in recent decades. The takeaway message emphasizes how decreasing albedo is a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism. (Also known as a positive feedback mechanism.)
Two optional follow-on activities are included. The first uses images and data from Greenland to further examine albedo changes on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The second activity examines a case study from Colorado about dust layers on the snowpack and the implications for melting, runoff and water supply management. This activity has ties to public policy.
Determining whether students have met the goals
There are three methods of evaluation incorporated into this activity:
- Student worksheets
- The Excel plots of snow depth, temperature and albedo
- The concept sketch and essay that synthesize albedo and its effect on snowmelt and climate. The instructor's guide has options for varying the difficulty of this assignment.
Teaching materials and tips
- All of the materials needed to teach this activity are hosted on the CIRES Arctic Climate Curriculum website. Here you will find a teacher's guide, solution set, student worksheets, a student Excel file, an instructor Excel file, and supporting graphics. There is also a video presentation by the research scientists who are currently engaged in the scientific mission upon which these activities are based.
- Arctic Climate Curriculum Overview (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 4.2MB Apr28 14) This document contains an outline of all three parts of the curriculum, describes the rationale behind curriculum development and alignment with Next Generation Science Standards and Colorado Science Standards, and contains a list of all the teaching materials that were developed for this project.
- Anne U. Gold, Karin Kirk, Deb Morrison, Susan Lynds, Susan Buhr Sullivan, Andrey Grachev & Ola Persson (2015) Arctic Climate Connections Curriculum: A Model for Bringing Authentic Data Into the Classroom, Journal of Geoscience Education, 63:3, 185-197, DOI: 10.5408/14-030.1