Initial Publication Date: March 17, 2015
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Preparing to Teach a Climate EarthLabs Module


Studies about weather and climate and the ways in which they shape life on Earth have long had a place in the school curriculum. Today, as we struggle to understand the surprisingly new ways in which weather and climate are influencing our lives, the need for an informed citizenry is greater than ever. The most recent set of four EarthLabs Climate modules will play a key role in helping students deepen their understanding of how our climate system works. Like their climate-related EarthLabs predecessors (Drought; Hurricanes; etc.), the new modules address weather and climate not simply as atmospheric processes but in the context of the interconnected Earth system, which includes the planet's oceans, landmasses, biosphere, and cryosphere (Earth's frozen places), as well as the atmosphere.

Although the main focus of the four new climate modules is climate literacy, it is impossible to ignore climate change when one looks seriously at climate data, something that students do in each of the new modules.

A brief introduction to the new modules (below) is followed by some classroom implementation suggestions and science background notes that can help you address student questions and support student learning across all of the EarthLabs Climate modules.

Climate and the Cryosphere

Water is unique among Earth's natural materials. In addition to the essential role it plays in supporting life, it covers a large portion of our planet and has a freezing/melting point that is fairly close to Earth's average temperature. This results in water being present in both liquid and solid forms on Earth's surface, depending on location. Relatively small changes in Earth's average temperature dramatically increase or decrease the amount of Earth's snow and ice. Earth's average temperature today is just 4° to 5° C warmer than it was during the last glaciation, when a large area of the northern United States was buried under 3 to 4 kilometers of ice.

This dynamic cryosphere does not simply react to Earth's climate; it also plays a key role in shaping it. In this module, students learn about the dynamic nature of Earth's land and sea ice, how the cryosphere and our climate shape one another, and what scientists are discovering about Earth's climate by studying ice that was formed hundreds of thousands of years ago.