Earth's climate system

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:40pm
Share-a-thon Part of Tuesday


Rondi Davies, CUNY Queensborough Community College


The activity will be described and disseminated at the share-a-thon.


An exploration of Earth's climate system was created for a physical geology laboratory class at an urban community college in New York City. At the outset, students engage with a phenomenon-based exploration of the city's urban heat island effect using satellite-derived heat maps. They discuss and sketch their thinking to explain the causes of the phenomenon, allowing them to connect it to their everyday lives. They subsequently build their knowledge when they explore datasets and conduct activities related to three major climate drivers: albedo, the greenhouse effect, and Milankovitch cycles. The activity culminates in a second model-building activity to explain the role of these climate drivers in the formation of glaciers that covered the city during the Pleistocene glaciation.

Learning outcomes identify the relationship between a surfaces color, temperature, and albedo, how a decline in glaciers leads to further melting of ice (albedo ice feedback), patterns in shortwave and longwave energy over time, the greenhouse effect, the components that make up Milankovitch cycles, how Milankovitch cycles are responsible for natural cycles of warming and cooling over time, and how the Earth's climate System is influenced by natural and human made controls.


This activity is taught over two three-hour laboratory classes in physical geology at an urban community college. The target audience is community college and high school Earth science students.

Why It Works

The activity was developed as part of the Advancing Community College Education and Student Success (ACCESS) program Professional Learning Community made up of University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Paleontology staff and graduate students as well as community college instructors from across the country, with the goal to create Earth science course materials that applied Ambitious Science Teaching (AST) practices. This approach uses personally-relevant phenomena to anchor and contextualize the topic, and evidence-based discovery and problem-solving activities that allow students to draw upon what they know to construct scientific explanations.