This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Using Real-World Data to Examine Climate Change Implications for Lake Superior

This activity was developed during the workshop, Teaching Climate Change: Insight from Large Lakes, held in June 2012.
by Diane Desotelle, MN Sea Grant
Kevin Theissen, University of St. Thomas

Topic: Climate change trends and implications

Course Type: upper level (but might be scaled-down to introductory-level as well)

Learning Goals

Students should be able to do the following:

Overarching goal: Use existing climate data for Lake Superior to hypothesize about and explore the trends of water and air temperature.

  1. Access and analyze real-world data from the Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) website and from other provided datasets.
  2. Develop a well-reasoned hypothesis that explains the existing data, and make conclusions about the future trends for both lake and air temperatures.


This exercise should be run over 1.5 lab sessions or could also be done as a combination homework and lab assignment.

  1. Students work individually on this exercise. In the first session, instructors explain that students will be viewing data sets of Lake Superior temperatures and air temperatures that span the last century and provide a handout that outlines several tasks and associated questions to complete the exercise. Before viewing the data, students must make a prediction:
  2. Students then access the data from associated websites and datasets provided by the instructor, plot the data in such a way that trends and magnitudes of change can be compared (this will require use of statistical features of Excel such as data smoothing, trendlines, etc.).
  3. Students compare the results to their predictions.
  4. Finally, students write a 1 to 2 page report that:
  • includes their plotted data,
  • briefly explains how the results differed from their initial predictions,
  • provides a well-reasoned hypothesis that explains the actual observed difference in rates of changing lake and air temperature, and
  • discusses their ideas about implications for the lake in the future.
  • In the second lab session (roughly half of a lab period), students turn in their completed reports and make a brief presentation. The exercise concludes with a group discussion and the presentation of the Jay Austin explanation (see References section below) for the phenomenon.



Requires access to datasets from GLOS and other sources (from Jay Austin, Univ Minn-Duluth)

Using a climate change story to teach about large lake processes
Click to view
Using a climate change story to teach about large lake processes (PowerPoint 6.1MB Jun20 12)
Austin, J. A. and S. M. Colman (2007), Lake Superior summer water temperatures are increasing more rapidly than regional air temperatures: A positive ice-albedo feedback, Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L06604, doi:10.1029/2006GL029021. 
Stronger winds over a large lake in response to weakening air-to-lake temperature gradient, Nature Geoscience 2, 855 - 858 (2009). Published online: 15 November 2009 | doi:10.1038/ngeo693
Austin, Jay, Steve Colman A century of temperature variability in Lake Superior, Limnol. Oceanogr., 53(6), 2008, 2724-2730 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2008.53.6.2724. Full text available free from this link:

Lake in a Bottle: A Laboratory Demonstration of the Unusual Stability Properties of Freshwater J.A. Austin, E.B. Voytek, J. Halbur, and M.A. Macuiane. 2011. Oceanography 24(4):136"142,