Climate and Energy Webinar Series: February 18, 2011 - Webinar

Numerical climate model output depicting sea-surface temperature during the Eocene (C. Shellito).

A Climate Modeling Tutorial - Cindy Shellito, University of Northern Colorado

Webinar goals
  • Part I - Learn about how to use the UNEP Java Climate Model in a classroom setting
  • Part II - Follow-up with participants from the October 2010 Climate Modeling workshop, to hear how the development and implementation of new teaching materials is going.
Time -
Part I:
10:00 am Pacific | 11:00 am Mountain | 12:00 pm Central | 1:00 pm Eastern
Part II: 11:00 am Pacific | 12:00 am Mountain | 1:00 pm Central | 2:00 pm Eastern
Duration - Part I - 1 hour. The presentation will be 45 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of discussion. Part II - 1 hour of discussion about activity development.
Format - Online web presentation via phone and Elluminate web conference software with questions and answers following.
Registration - There is no registration fee, but registration is required to save a space (and because space is limited to 35, be sure you can commit before registering). Registration closes when the spaces fill or one week before each event, whichever comes first.
Contact - For questions contact Karin Kirk or Katryn Wiese (kkirk at or katryn.wiese at

This webinar will include a brief introduction to global climate models, and a short tutorial on the UNEP Java Climate Model . The UNEP Java Climate Model is a freely available interactive model which allows students to explore a range of climate change scenarios in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While the model does not have the complexity or facility of a full global climate model, its easy accessibility make it a useful classroom tool. The model works well on both Mac and PC platforms.
Cindy Shellito is an associate professor of meteorology in the Earth Sciences Department at the University of Northern Colorado. Her primary areas of specialization include paleoclimate modeling and science education. Modeling interests focus on the role of greenhouse gases in rapid climate transitions, dynamical mechanisms responsible for maintaining warm climates in Earth's history, and dynamic and radiative feedbacks between climate and vegetation. Educational interests involve research on using numerical and conceptual models to facilitate inquiry and learning among students in the classroom.

The presentation file, related references, and a webcast of this session will available on this page after the event.

References and Related Links

View the Screencast (MP4 Video 157.9MB Aug1 17) from this webinar, including audio.

A Climate Modeling Tutorial (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 2.6MB Feb18 11) - Presentation slides from the webinar, presented by Cindy Shellito, University of Northern Colorado.

UNEP Java Climate Model is free to use and available online. A newer version is also available to download.

Teaching About Earth's Climate Using Data and Numerical Models - This online workshop took place in October 2010. The workshop website contains presentations, discussions, and workshop outcomes.

  • Visit the Discussion board from the October workshop to ask questions or share your experience and insight regarding using climate models in the classroom.
  • The Resource List from this workshop contains material related to modeling data and software, data analysis, visualizations, activity and course design, activity examples, assessment, and more.

The Cutting Edge Complex Systems module contains information that may be helpful for incorporating climate models into the classroom, including:

The National Geographic Bathtub Model and Climate Change Simulator describe the "carbon bathtub" as it relates to CO2 emissions.

Summary of the Event

  • Only a few participants had used climate models in their teaching thus far, but there was strong interest in gaining some experience and learning how to get started.
  • Climate models can range in complexity from simple energy balance models up through integrated global climate models. The type of model should match the educational goals of the course or lab activity.
  • Teaching with models can have many pedagogic benefits. Models encourage inquiry, demonstrate the effect of feedbacks and complexity, can mirror authentic research experience, and strengthen students' understanding via visualizations.
  • Some challenges of using models in class are that they can take a lot of time for the instructor to get set up, students may have low tolerance for fiddling with them if they are not user-friendly, and some models are expensive. (EdGCM is excellent, but pricey - however a 30 day free trial is available.)
  • The UNEP Java Climate Model is free, runs on a web browser, works with PCs or Macs, and allows students to instantly jump in and start interacting with the model.
  • The model allows users to choose many different views and settings. The model is simplified and runs off of IPCC parameters. Users can alter variables by simply dragging arrows and watching the response. More detailed interactions are also possible.
  • Students will need to be guided through the process of how to work with the model. A detailed handout would be very helpful.
  • Many types of student explorations are possible, but scaffolding is needed for students to grasp how different elements of the climate system are connected. Otherwise the model is just a black box.
  • Judging by how quickly the participants enthusiastically jumped into the model, we agreed that this would be engaging for students too.