Climate Change: Past & Present, Local & Global
Average inquiry level: Guided inquiry
In this laboratory exercise for introductory geology or environmental science courses, students use data to examine climate change in their local environment. They compare local changes to global data over different time scales. As an assessment, students create an infographic to demonstrate their understanding of how local climate change may affect their region and what people can do to be better prepared. This lab was originally designed for online instruction, but may be used in face-to-face instruction as well.
This module has been used in introductory undergraduate geology courses. It is also appropriate for environmental and Earth systems science courses.
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
Students need a basic understanding of creating and interpreting graphs. Students should have a basic understanding of the scale of geologic time and how the past 800,000 years is recent in the context of time.
How the activity is situated in the course
This activity could be stand-alone. It has been taught in the middle or near the end of the course.
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Explain how ice cores can be used to collect long term climate change data (Module 3)
Compare data over different timescales (Module 2 and 3 )
Explain how atmospheric CO2 changes through time, and how this compares to changes in temperature (Module 2 and 3)
Explain that the warming today is rapid and accelerating compared to the past. (Module 2, 3 and 4)
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Make observations of their local environment and ask questions about how phenomena are linked to changes in climate (Module 1)
Construct a bivariate plot using a small dataset, either by hand or with Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets (Module 2)
Interpret a simple scatter plot of temperature and time variables (Module 2)
Create an infographic that examines how rapid climate change is impacting a specific location, use data as evidence to support that claim, and find and explain a data set that supports how climate change affects either the area where you live or have lived.
Other skills goals for this activity
Description and Teaching Materials
This four-module laboratory exercise can be used to teach online, either synchronous or asynchronous (with slight modifications) and could be converted to in person. It is intended to be taught to students enrolled in introductory college level Earth Science.
This module has been used near the end of an introductory geology course. Students need a basic understanding of creating and interpreting graphs. Students should have a basic understanding of the scale of geologic time and how the past 800,000 years is recent in the context of geologic time.
It will take students 3-4 hours to complete the entire exercise. Students will need online or paper access to the Student Handout (S_Climate Change_past-present-local-global.docx) to begin.
Module 1 has two options. The first is to go on a short walk to make observations and ask questions about changes in their local environment. For the second option, students read news stories and make observations and ask questions about climate change phenomena.
In Module 2, students create plots of temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. They can do this by hand (graph paper is provided) or they can use MSExcel or Google Sheets. The MSExcel file is provided (Average Temp and CO2 NOAA_NASA.xlsx). Students answer questions as they analyze the data.
In Module 3, students watch a video highlighting the efforts of Antarctic climate scientists and then examine data from the EPICA Ice Core. As students answer the accompanying questions, they analyze the graphs that show the 800,000-year history of temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide data in Antarctica. Students compare the long-term data set with instrumental data from 1880 to present.
Finally, in Module 4, students apply what they have learned to their local environment by creating an infographic that examines how climate change is impacting a location of interest (this could be a zip code, town, or county/parish/borough), use data as evidence to support their claims, find and explain a data set that supports how climate change affects that location, and identify how people there can respond to the impacts of climate change through both mitigation and adaptation. (See Example Infographic – Changing Climate, DeKalb, IL.pdf)
Student Handout for Climate Change - Past Present Local Global (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 848kB Aug23 21)
Student Data File (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 76kB Aug23 21)
Graph Paper for Student Graphing Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 396kB Aug23 21)
Example Infographic for Climate Change - Past Present Local Global (Acrobat (PDF) 2.5MB Jul27 21)
Teaching Notes and Tips
In Module 1, students can get outside in their local environment or the instructor can provide curated images and stories about phenomena that encourage students to make observations and ask questions. The provided resources were chosen intentionally and are from different news sources, about different topics, and for different regions.
In Module 2, students' graphs show yearly changes. Instructors may want to point out that one year of temperature data does not give us a trend, and in fact, may show a downward trend. We need decades of data to see climate trends.
In Module 4, When searching for phenomenon - enter your full question in the browser. To create an infographic, you can use Google Slides or MS Powerpoint (how-to videos for Google Slides and MS Powerpoint). Other free online platforms include Canva, Piktochart, and Venngage. Here are some example infographics on renewable energy infographics for each of the US states.
Student learning is assessed throughout the modules. Check to make sure students have the correct answers in Modules 2 and 3.
The final (summative) assessment of student learning is Module 4 in which students apply what they have learned to their local environment by creating an infographic that examines how climate change is impacting a location of interest (this could be a zip code, town, or county/parish/borough), use data as evidence to support their claims, find and explain a data set that supports how climate change affects that location, and identify how people there can respond to the impacts of climate change through both mitigation and adaptation.
References and Resources
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Buck, L. B., Bretz, S. L., & Towns, M. H. (2008). Characterizing the level of inquiry in the undergraduate laboratory.Journal of College Science Teaching, 38(1), 52.
Climate Central (2020, February 19). Global Temperatures and CO2 Concentrations (2020).Retrieved from https://www.climatecentral.org/gallery/graphics/global-temperatures-and-co2-concentrations-2020
Jouzel, J., V. Masson-Delmotte, O. Cattani, G. Dreyfus, S. Falourd, G. Hoffmann, B. Minster, J. Nouet, J.M. Barnola, J. Chappellaz, H. Fischer, J.C. Gallet, S. Johnsen, M. Leuenberger, L. Loulergue, D. Luethi, H. Oerter, F. Parrenin, G. Raisbeck, D. Raynaud, A. Schilt, J. Schwander, E. Selmo, R. Souchez, R. Spahni, B. Stauffer, J.P. Steffensen, B. Stenni, T.F. Stocker, J.L. Tison, M. Werner, and E.W. Wolff. 2007. Orbital and Millennial Antarctic Climate Variability over the Past 800,000 Years. Science, Vol. 317, No. 5839, pp.793-797, 10 August 2007.https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/study/6080.
Lüthi, D., M. Le Floch, B. Bereiter, T. Blunier, J.-M. Barnola, U. Siegenthaler, D. Raynaud, J. Jouzel, H. Fischer, K. Kawamura, and T.F. Stocker. 2008. High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000-800,000 years before present. Nature, Vol. 453, pp. 379-382, 15 May 2008. https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/paleo/study/6091.
NASA. (2021, January 22). Global Surface Temperature. NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/.
NASA. (n.d.). World of change: Global temperatures. NASA. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/decadaltemp.php.
US Department of Commerce, N. O. A. A. (2005, October 1). Global Monitoring Laboratory - Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases. GML. https://gml.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends/data.html.