Using the IPCC Reports in Teaching and Outreach

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:45pm Student Union: Trailblazer/Spirit
Round Table Discussion


Robin Matthews, IPCC WGI Technical Support Unit

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assesses the current state of scientific understanding on aspects of contemporary climate change. Their assessments span the physical science of climate change, impacts on human and natural systems, and options for adaptation and mitigation. As the IPCC begins preparation of its Sixth Assessment, the Technical Support Unit of IPCC Working Group I (WGI - 'The Physical Science Basis') is examining ways to enhance usage of WGI-related materials in teaching and outreach. The goal of this round-table session is to discuss ideas for disseminating physical science in IPCC reports to a range of age levels (middle school to undergraduate). Challenges include how to simplify complex climate science ideas without losing scientific accuracy, and how to communicate recent scientific advances to recipients with little or no background knowledge. As a catalyst for discussion, feedback will be sought on specially-developed educational versions of IPCC figures. The round-table will draw upon the broad collective knowledge and experience of EER attendees throughout Earth science education/educational research.

Robin Matthews presentation (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 12.5MB Jul24 17) (available for EER 2017 Tuesday participants)

Using the IPCC Reports in Teaching and Outreach -- Discussion  

This post was editted by Anne Egger on Jul, 2017

Who uses the IPCC in their teaching? 16 people
Who hasn't used it before? 11 people

Most people use:
--the summary for policy makers
Used at all levels: high school, introductory undergraduate, advanced undergraduate, informal education
More advanced classes use data, model results, and technical reports


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Challenges for making IPCC reports friendly for education:
-- they are written for policy-makers and specialists
-- information about a single topic is spread out across multiple reports
-- focus is global or regional
-- figures are not interactive
-- can become quickly outdated as new events happen
-- lots of jargon

What are the requirements of graphics for educational use?
- Need to know your audience, and the literature about what is cognitively appropriate for that audience
- "Education is a series of successively less egregious lies" - can't show everything to every audience
- Can have complicated figures because you can spend a lot of time with students to understand it - people are smart, just lazy. Takes time to unpack a figure
- Need to show data points specifically, not smoothed lines
- Introducing critical thinking skills and making conclusions - want a complex and rich graphic
- Can have a number of scaffolds for students that would help students develop the skills they need to understand - teachers need to be ready to teach with these
- Also teaching a skill in interpreting graphics in general
- How much time do you have? Might need to focus on one graphic.
- Need to be well-captioned, and figure captions need to be explicit. Often students are looking at things without us there to help explain. Need to avoid acronyms and/or spell them out.
- Need to be accessible; including for color-blind

How do they differ from those for other uses?


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Allowable carbon budget figure (group 5)

What's missing:
-- Sense of risk associated with different levels of warming

Not clear:
-- Low and high emissions scenarios are confusing int he graphic - the blue line stops
-- role of black arrows: we actually have less wiggle room than would be applied
-- keep using anomaly rather than "relative to pre-industrial"
-- choose top or bottom x-axis - which one? Need to choose based on audience and surrounding text
-- title could state take-home message - although that also depends on audience (don't want that for teaching students how to interpret graph)
-- Allowable for what??

Possibly put time on the x-axis rather than carbon budget, and make the carbon budget the non-linear part


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Excess Heat IPCC AR4 WGI Report Figure 5.4
The original diagram shows some change over time, the new diagram does not. The original is more quantitative, clearly measuring heat energy, the modified diagram is qualitative. The modified diagram is so oversimplified that it no longer looks like data. The caption on the modified diagram is misleading and is no longer communicating the transfer of heat energy (people will be thinking temperature). The modified version may create some misconceptions regarding what components of the Earth's System are WARMING vs. what components are absorbing more heat. The original diagram explains where the data is coming from.


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Radiative Forcing Figures 8.15

IPCC Figure

Natural vs. Anthropogenic variability a bit confusing

What do the hashed versus solid color bars mean

Error bars more clear

Acronymns (WMGHG) confusing

State that Red makes things warmer and Blue leads to cooling

Why 2 error bars on CO2

Changes make figure worse…

Separate Rf’s and Erf’s into separate figure

Make all bars solid…reserve Rf’s and Erf’s for more advanced figure for specialist audience.

Consider whether natural sources should be listed at top rather than bottom of figure

Consider removing separate color for N2O

Test figure for colorblind interpretation

Difficult to understand RF vs ERF

Inclusion of date range good.

Modified Figure

Anthropogenic vs. natural not labeled and very unclear

Poor Error bars (unclear that they ARE error bars…look like arrows)

Does not differentiate stratospheric vs. tropospheric ozone

Definition of long and short lived greenhouse gases unclear and potentially inaccurate. CH4 is NOT a long lived gas to a methane scientist

Aerosols have dual role that is lost

Effect on climate (Watts/m2) means nothing to a nonspecialist without context

This figure would be a denier’s field day as it shows contradictory trends and anthropogenic forcing…and implies that natural variability has been ignored



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This post was editted by Jason Cervenec on Jul, 2017
Emission sources & sinks (versions 1, 2, and 3)

Version 1
The depiction is difficult to understand intuitively as you need to look at why some start at origin and some do not.
Sources and sinks should not be shown in equal light, but the graphic depicts than as equal.
The y-axis is confusing at the bars are hanging in the air; the x-axis is confusing because the two ends show years but the middle shows sources and sinks.

Version 2
There was some disagreement of uses of work sources and sinks. Sink was conflated with reservoir where it should be a rate.
Maybe the verbiage could be included.
This depiction is very flat without a clear narrative and information story that is trying to be conveyed.
Two lines graph with emissions being shown above the line on one and absorption being shown below the line on the other; the various sources and sinks could be stacked. A third line graph could show the summarize effect. You would need data for the interval from 1750 to 2012 to show this.

Version 3
Third figure is good in showing a dynamic process that has processing happening rather than than other depictions being more static. The graphic does a great job showing locations of emissions and absorption in a way that being would intuively understand.
Is there a way to simplify the information: maybe don't include the uncertainty windows, etc.
Could multiple versions of a graphic being included, one with the numbers and one without the numbers. Would this allow the teacher to first conceptually present the graphic and then go back and look at the numeric data once the concept was understood.


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Global carbon budget - additional comments:
-- fossil fuels and cement are really different (fossil fuel is much bigger)
-- size of arrows doesn't correlate with size of flux


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Global Carbon Cycle Figure

1) Quantity of carbon, fluxes between reservoir, difference between natural and anthropogenic sources.
Tough concepts: Imbalance in carbon and where. What is the main takeaway?

2) Simplified by combining data categories, added a key/legend, color coded arrows, simplified the representation of the earth, fewer labels

3) In simplified figure, have combined anthropogenic and natural sources in "Ocean-to-atmosphere flux," presenting them as natural sources, losing important information about human- vs. non-human carbon fluxes. Also lose information about the ocean by combining ocean levels, losing complexity about time scale of these interactions. Does not define "flux."

4) Unsolicited suggestion: try using rates, calculate total flux from humans


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Some final thoughts:
--Could ask students to come up with a different way of showing the information in order to demonstrate their understanding
-- Being able to build up complicated graphs in layers, so some interactivity would help - can get to complex end product by adding one layer at a time
-- Short videos that demonstrate how to use the graphs
-- look to NGSS for ideas for building lessons around finding and interpreting data
-- look to CCSS for ideas interpretation of graphical material


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An important consideration is that often the underlying learning goals of a 100- or 200-level college climate change class are not specifically related to the content, but to more general scientific and critical thinking skills. So a simplified graphic that clearly communicates a single idea is not effective pedagogically if the learning goal was embedded in the complexity. Complexity is good, but must be placed inside larger scientific thinking context, and questions that force students to explore and understand complexity. Teaching is not the same as communicating.

For example:
1) CO2 concentration was stable for several thousand years until 1750 and then increased rapidly is a basic climate fact. That our knowledge comes from a wide variety of data sources, paleological, proxy, in situ, etc. is a larger scientific principle.

2) Climate factoid: CO2 emissions from various sources has increased over the past and that CO2 is partitioned between Atmos, Ocean, Land. Science Learning Goal: Over time, the difference between sources and sinks in the carbon cycle must be balanced by increase in reservoirs.


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