Oceans and Climate Debate

Branwen Williams, Claremont McKenna-Pitzer-Scripps Colleges
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Initial Publication Date: May 31, 2013 | Reviewed: July 21, 2015


This activity orally tests students understanding of the links between ocean processes and global climate change. It is set up as a debate with students serving as the science experts and volunteer faculty serving as the opposition team.

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This activity was designed for a small upper level undergraduate global climate change class but could just as easily be adapted to an oceanography class that includes some coverage of climate issues. The topic could be adapted to any other oceanographic issue that can be debated.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have an understanding of:
  • Earth's energy budget
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Ocean-atmosphere interactions
  • Ocean circulation
  • Carbon cycle
  • Anthropogenic climate change

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is designed to be carried out as stand-alone, capstone activity completed toward the end of a semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

To test student's applied understanding of the role of the oceans in natural and anthropogenic climate variability.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity provides motivation for the students to learn and retain course material in a setting that is very different from a written exam. Students are required to synthesize information in real time to support specific discussion points.

Other skills goals for this activity

This activity includes oral presentation of prepared and unprepared material in a high stress situation.

Description and Teaching Materials

Example outline for debate activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 18kB May31 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students can find this activity stressful since they are on the hot seat in front of other professors. I work very hard to keep the atmosphere of the activity friendly. This includes very carefully choosing the faculty involved, ensuring that the students have sufficient head's up about this activity by talking it up throughout the semester, and providing snacks for post-activity while we discuss how the debate went.


Students are assessed by a rubric. I also solicit feedback from the faculty privately and provide to the students as appropriate.

References and Resources