Heat Transport in the Climate System

Christopher Kopf
Mansfield University
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This page first made public: Jul 11, 2008


This is an introductory activity designed for small groups in a single 50 minute class period. The exercise stresses interpretation of data from a simple graph, and helps students to integrate information on heat transport, ocean circulation and atmosphere circulation that was presented in previous lectures/reading.

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Introductory undergraduate course (no lab) on physical geology for earth science education majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Very basic conceptual understanding of global ocean and atmosphere circulation.
  • Basic knowledge of evaporation/condensation cycles in the climate system.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is an in-class exercise used as a springboard in tying together heat, ocean, and atmosphere interactions in the climate system. It follows several lectures/readings on the individual parts of the climate system, and stimulates classroom discussion and lecture that tie together these elements as part the heat transport system.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Heat transport in the climate system
  • Global ocean and atmosphere circulation
  • Evaporation and condensation

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Interpretation and comparison of data presented in graph form.
  • Synthesis of several elements of the climate system.

Other skills goals for this activity

Small group discussion

Description of the activity/assignment

This exercise follows several class lectures and reading assignments that focus on solar energy fluxes, wind, and ocean circulation as separate components. Students are split into small groups (2-4 depending on class size) and are asked to answer the questions presented based on the graphed data. Student groups are given approximately 20 minutes to discuss their answers. This is followed by instructor moderated discussion of the different group answers in the context of the role of heat as the engine of the climate system. Most students have little background in graph interpretation (especially understanding negative values) and the small group format creates a less-threatening peer environment which helps to involve all students in the exercise. The group discussion provides a great lead in for further lecture on interactions between different elements in the global climate system in following class periods and assignments.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students hand in their written answers prior to the group discussion, and I provide written comments on their interpretations after class. The answers/comments are handed back at the beginning of the next lecture period.

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