EdGCM: Real-time Global Climate Modeling Research for the Classroom

submitted by

Mark Chandler Columbia University/NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

EdGCM is a full-scale, 4-D, student-friendly, global climate model (GCM) that runs on inexpensive desktop computers, which allows students to conduct meaningful research studies in global climate. The project encourages collaboration among the science-research, undergraduate, and pre-college communities.
GSA Poster (Acrobat (PDF) 16MB Oct27 03)

Learning Goals


Higher Order Thinking Skills:

Inferring, interpreting, drawing conclusions from maps, graphs, tabular data. Scientific investigation using modeling concepts.

Other Skills:

Demonstration of effective scientific communication by clearly describing aspects of the natural world using simulation results, data, graphs, or other appropriate media to convey depth of conceptual understanding of climate change.


Instructional Level:

6-12, undergraduate, graduate, can also be used for original research purposes by departments lacking large-scale computing resources or scientific programming support.

Skills Needed:

Basic knowledge of climate topics to be investigated. Basic understanding of the concept of modeled versus observed data. Experience with point-and-click personal computer use.

Role of Activity in a Course:

This activity can be integrated into a variety of climate study topics and can be used as a focal point for collaborative education/research projects. It allows students to conduct scientific studies, utilizing a powerful, student-friendly version of an application, which climate scientists use in their everyday research activities.

Data, Tools and Logistics

Required Tools:

The EdGCM software suite runs on both Macs and PCs, though java 1.3 must be installed in order to run the included mapping and plotting software. Also, a couple of utilities are currently Mac-only.
Minimum system requirements:
Macintosh: G4 processor or better running Mac OS X 10.3.9 or higher.
Wintel PCs: Any computer running Windows XP/Vista/7.

Logistical Challenges:

EdGCM is designed to run on both Macs and Windows PCs. No linux version is available. Newer computers run the experiments much faster than older computers. A new basic consumer level PC or Mac would run the GCM at about 200 simulated years/day. Many newer computers are "dual-core" or greater. Such computers can run one GCM simulation per core at full speed.


Evaluation Goals:

Evaluation Goals: To determine from participants, following teacher/undergraduate-training workshops, the potential effectiveness, at various instructional levels, of the EdGCM application and its supporting educational materials.
Evaluation Techniques: Prior to each workshop, participants will complete a pre-evaluation questionnaire focusing on their expectations. In the post-workshop assessment they will be asked to provide oral and written comments regarding whether or not their expectations were met. Also, suggestions from participants for modifications to the EdGCM application and its associated educational materials will be requested.

Evaluation Techniques:


EdGCM is a combination of software and materials that make it possible for teachers to run one of NASA's research-quality Global Climate Models (GCMs) on inexpensive desktop computers. GCMs are one of the primary tools used today in climate research. Unfortunately, few educators have access to GCMs, which generally require large-scale computing resources and scientific programmers to operate. Hence, most students miss out on excellent opportunities to participate in real-world research projects that are both current-event driven and actually affect their lives.
Our goal is to improve the quality of teaching and learning of climate-change science through broader access to GCMs and to provide appropriate technology and materials to help teachers use complex models effectively. EdGCM includes a full-scale GCM, which is still in use at NASA labs and universities. However, it also includes a broad package of user-friendly software that allows teachers to manage the GCM and its output in a manner that is appropriate for the classroom, yet similar to the way climate scientists actually work. Experiments are automatically archived in a searchable database and easy-to-use utilities for mapping, plotting, and data analysis are integrated with the climate model. In addition, EdGCM makes it easy for teachers to produce their own instructional materials including text, plots, images and even specialized simulation scenarios. It also allows teachers and students to easily report research results to the web and to exchange experiments with scientists and educators across the internet.
EdGCM will permit students to explore the fundamentals of climate science utilizing tools identical to those used in major climate research programs. Many simple climate experiments are possible (e.g. How does the sun warm the planet?), but, it is also possible to conduct in-depth investigations, in near real-time, as they are being studied by climate scientists. Examples include global warming, climates from the geologic past, and El Nino events. EdGCM comes with a variety of pre-prepared scenarios for investigating popular topics (greenhouse effect, the ice ages, climate of the dinosaurs, etc.). However, teachers can easily construct their own simulation scenarios and they can identify key variables to be made available for students to analyze. EdGCM scales for use at grade levels that range from high school to graduate school, making it a unique tool for linking research to the classroom. Our future plans involve the creation of an EdGCM Cooperative, a network of researchers and educators actively collaborating on climate research projects. Future versions of EdGCM will make the climate model accessible to middle schoolers and the general public as well.