Climate Change Module

This module was initially developed by O'Reilly, C.M., D.C. Richardson, and R.D. Gougis. 15 March 2017. Project EDDIE: Climate Change. Project EDDIE Module 8, Version 1.


Scientists agree that the climate is changing and that human activities are a primary cause for this change through increased emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. There have been times in Earth's past that temperature and CO2 concentrations have been much higher than they currently are, so it is not just the actual temperature that is of concern to scientists, but the fact that the rate of change of temperature is unprecedented in the geologic record. We do not know how various factors will respond to such a rapid rate of change, and thus we anticipate that many species will not be able to adapt, leading to widespread extinction. In this module, students will explore how climate is changing from the recent record. They will then compare current patterns to pre-historic rates of change calculated from ice-core data and use their results to support whether or not human activity is likely to have influenced current climate change. Project EDDIE modules are designed with an A-B-C structure to make them flexible and adaptable to a range of student levels and course structures.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

  • To analyze global temperature data to see if Earth's average global temperatures are really increasing
  • To analyze CO2 data to see if atmospheric levels are really increasing
  • To correlate CO2 data with global temperature to see if there is a relationship
  • To compare current trends with rates of change during pre-historic periods using ice core data
  • To interpret what these results mean for understanding current climate change
  • To learn basic shortcuts and graphing in Excel

Context for Use

This entire module can be completed in one 3 hour lab period or two 50 minute lecture periods for introductory or intermediate level students. If students have experience graphing in Excel, it is possible to complete Activities A and C within a single 70 minute class period, although there is not much time for discussion (this option excludes doing Activity B, which could be assigned for homework). One option is to have students complete as much as possible in a single class period, complete the rest for homework and to use the subsequent class period for discussion of their results.

This module has been used in a range of courses. For a large general education biology course that is primarily freshmen, the module was completed in the smaller laboratory sections and discussed during lecture. The module has been used in an Ecology course laboratory (all Activities) and in an Environmental Geology lecture (Activity A and B). The module was integrated into a summer science camp for middle school students. A simplified version of the module has been used for a single lecture period in Ecology, where the graphs are already made, printed out and distributed among the students. Module materials can be tailored to increase or decrease the background information depending on students' quantitative skills.

Description and Teaching Materials

Quick overview of the activities in this module

See the teaching materials files, provided below, for a step-by-step description for carrying out this module. A student handout, describing Activities A, B, and C, and instructor answer key are also provided.

  • Activity A: Determine current rates of air temperature and CO2 change from modern datasets.
  • Activity B: Explore whether temperature and CO2 concentrations are related.
  • Activity C: Compare current rates to pre-historical rates of change using data from an ice core to investigate how climate has changed in the past.

Workflow of this module:

  1. Assign any pre-class readings
  2. Give students their handout when they arrive to class
  3. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation with background material. Discussion of the readings can be integrated into this presentation or done before.
  4. Students can then work through the module activities.

Teaching Materials

This R code has been used in RStudio Cloud with non-R users to do a modified version of the Climate Change Module that just focuses on changes in CO2:

Modifications on this Activity from the Community

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Conributed by Paul Meister

I utilized the Climate Change Module during the spring of 2020 in my Principles of Geology course. Due to COVID forcing all courses to be online, I had to modify my lab schedule and chose this particular activity as it was co-authored by a colleague of mine and fit into my course curriculum. I provided the students with the Excel file and student handouts and a zoom lecture that I recorded with the provided PPT. The students were instructed to complete part A and B for the first week and Part C for the second week. As some students were not familiar with plotting in Excel, I also provided a brief video tutorial on using Excel. Overall, I thought the activity went very smoothly for being online and the advice I would give to others is to make sure that the students have a working knowledge of Excel as this seemed to be the largest hurdle most students had.

Teaching Notes and Tips

See the Instructor's Manual (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 107kB Feb3 20) and Instructor's PowerPoint for notes and tips for carrying out this exercise.


In Activity A, after the presentation and discussion of readings, students work to determine current rates of air temperature and CO2 change from modern datasets. In Activity B, students explore whether temperature and CO2 concentrations are related. In Activity C, students compare current rates to pre-historical rates of change using data from an ice core to investigate how climate has changed in the past.

References and Resources

Suggested pre-class readings

No readings are required for this exercise, but here are some that might be appropriate, depending upon course level and the instructor's goals.

  • IPCC. 2013. Physical Science Basis, Summary for Policymakers
  • A. Seidl 2010. Early Spring: An ecology and her children wake to a warming world. 'Chapter 1 (Weather)' Penguin Random House.
  • Barnola, J. M., et al. 1987. "Historical carbon dioxide record from the Vostok ice core." Nature 329: 408-414.