InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Climate of Change > Unit 2: Deciphering Short-Term Climate Variability > Case Study 2.1 - Climate Variability in the Equatorial Pacific
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Case Study 2.1 - Climate Variability in the Equatorial Pacific

Cindy Shellito, University of Northern Colorado
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These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

Students examine data to identify patterns and to understand concepts of variability and anomaly.

Science and Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events. MS-P6.4:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships. MS-P4.2:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Stability and Change: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale. MS-C7.1:

Patterns: Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data. MS-C1.4:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Weather and Climate : The ocean exerts a major influence on weather and climate by absorbing energy from the sun, releasing it over time, and globally redistributing it through ocean currents. MS-ESS2.D3:

The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes: The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns. MS-ESS2.C2:

Performance Expectations

Earth's Systems: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems. HS-ESS2-2:

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.


This page first made public: Jun 24, 2014

Summary

This activity engages students in examining tropical Pacific pressure, sea-surface temperature, and precipitation data over a 10 year time span. Students work in groups to understand a data set, then debrief as a class to identify connections between data sets and discuss factors that cause the year-to-year changes. Ideally, this may be used prior to an introduction to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.

Learning Goals

During this activity students will:
  • Learn how to read two types of plots: a lat-lon contour plot, and a Hovmöller diagram.
  • Be able to identify changes in tropical sea-surface temperature, precipitation, and pressure patterns over time.
  • Explain how temperature and pressure anomalies affect the location of precipitation in the tropical Pacific.
My goals in creating this activity were to:
  • Introduce students to strategies for interpreting data that varies in both space and time.
  • Use an inquiry approach to introduce students to the phenomena of climate variability in the tropical Pacific.
  • Illustrate relationships between temperature, pressure, and precipitation.

Context for Use

This activity is designed for use in InTeGrate Climate of Change Module - Unit 2, but can be used as a stand-alone lab activity or as an introduction to El Niño. This activity should take approximately 30 minutes.

Description and Teaching Materials

The data for students is in a PowerPoint file. Depending on the format of the class, students may access these data electronically, or you may wish to make color printouts for students to view in class. There is also a grayscale version of the data sheets. If printing out the grayscale versions for use in class, I highly recommended that each group of students have at least one color copy as well, if possible. There are three types of data: sea-surface temperature/wind, precipitation, and pressure. The pressure data are optional and will work best if used in a small class or with more advanced students. In a large class, with strict time constraints, it might be best to divide the students into groups of three to four. Have each group focus on either temperature or precipitation. The student handout posted here has questions about each type of data in Part 1. You may wish to provide students with the entire document or simply the subset of questions that their group will focus on. Part 2 contains questions for students to complete after a class discussion.

Case Study 2.1 Student Handout (Microsoft Word 39kB Feb18 15)

CaseStudy 2.1 Data Sheets
Click to view
CaseStudy 2.1 Data Sheets (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 1.2MB Feb18 15)

The following three documents combine the data and questions for each group.

Case Study 2.1 Student Handout - Precipitation (Microsoft Word 898kB Feb18 15)

Case Study 2.1 Student Handout - Pressure Anomalies (Microsoft Word 248kB Feb18 15)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Prior to the activity, students should have an idea how to read a contour plot, and be familiar with the term anomaly and how an anomaly is computed.

During class discussion after students have completed Part 1, it is helpful to organize the data using a table. The file available here contains a sample table and some suggested discussion prompts.

Case Study 2.1 Teaching Notes (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 69kB May22 14)

Assessment

The student handout may be used as an assessment. The two questions in Part 2 of the handout are designed specifically for use as a formative assessment. Are students able to articulate/summarize the group and class discussion regarding the effects of temperature and pressure on tropical precipitation? Can they describe the annual variability that occurs along the equator in terms temperature shifts in given locations?

The following document provides answers to the questions in the student handout:

Case Study 2.1 Student Handout Answers


This file is only accessible to verified educators. If you are a teacher or faculty member and would like access to this file please enter your email address to be verified as belonging to an educator.

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Additionally, students may be presented with Case Study 2.2, which requires them to consider a new set of data in the North Atlantic.

References and Resources

Data contained in the PowerPoint for this activity comes from two sources:

NOAA TAO/TRITON Data Display and the NCEP NOMADS Server containing NCEP Reanalysis model output. This activity could be modified or expanded with additional data from these sites. Alternatively, more advanced students could be directed to access these data themselves.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »