Poleward Heat Transport Jigsaw

E. Christa Farmer
Hofstra Geology
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Based on great plate tectonic exercise by Sawyer et al. (2005 JGE), this small-group exercise with maps of data about earth's energy balance helps students visualize poleward heat transport.

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I first tested this exercise in a upper-level paleoclimate class for majors, fixed some major problems, and have then used it in my first-year student seminar (introductory, almost no science majors) "Global Warming and the Science of Climate Change."

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

They must have some concept of Watts per square meter, how to read latitude and longitude, and how to plot 2-dimensional data.

How the activity is situated in the course

I use this as a lab exercise to accompany some more lecture-based classes introducing the climate system and the earth's fundamental solar-IR energy balance.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The students will have a better understanding of how energy enters and exits the earth system and how that balance drives oceanic and atmospheric motions.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students will practice graphing 2-dimensional data, and "see" quantitative relationships spatially (hopefully helping them understand where the equations come from).

Other skills goals for this activity

Students will work in groups (I like how the "jigsaw" format creates groups of "experts" who then have to explain what they've done to folks who haven't done it).

Description of the activity/assignment

To prepare for this exercise, students will read about the Earth's energy balance, the electromagnetic spectrum (including visible solar and invisible infrared energy), the effect of the earth's atmosphere, and the earth's resulting general oceanic and atmospheric circulation. For this I like Chapters 3, 4, & 5 in "The Earth System" (2nd Ed.) by Kump, Kasting, & Crane. The students' first step is to estimate zonal averages of Incoming Solar (Shortwave), Absorbed Shortwave, and Outgoing Longwave Radiation from 11x17in color maps of Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) data. Then I remix the groups and they create zonal averages of these data at particular longitudes (like Fig. 2-14 in Ruddiman, "Earth's Climate: Past & Future").

Determining whether students have met the goals

We compare all groups' longitudinal plots and realize they are all very similar; I have extensive discussion in subsequent classes to make sure everyone understands (I have only used this in a seminar class so far).

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

This exercise is modeled on this activity:
Sawyer, Henning, Shipp, & Dunbar (2005). A Data Rich Exercise for Discovering Plate Boundary Processes. Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, n. 1, p. 65-74.
Data used in this exercise were collected in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE), and plotted using the online viewer of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory/International Research Institute Climate Data Library: http://iridl.ldeo.columbia.edu/SOURCES/.NASA/.ERBE/.Climatology/