InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Climate of Change > Unit 2: Deciphering Short-Term Climate Variability > Case Study 2.2 - Climate Variability in the North Atlantic
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Case Study 2.2 - Climate Variability in the North Atlantic

Cindy Shellito, University of Northern Colorado
Author Profile

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: Construct an explanation using models or representations. MS-P6.2:

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:

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 walks students through a data set depicting climate variability in the North Atlantic, associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NOA). Students examine anomalies of precipitation and pressure over a 10-year period, create a chart showing the movement of these anomalies over this time period, and answer questions about the relationship between North Atlantic pressure anomalies and precipitation on the Iberian Peninsula.

Learning Goals

During this activity students will:
  • Practice reading lat-lon contour plots of pressure and precipitation.
  • Depict changes in pressure and precipitation over time on a map of the North Atlantic.
  • Explain how pressure changes and precipitation patterns may be connected.
  • Be able to explain the importance of examining an anomaly.
My goals in creating this activity were to:
  • Provide students with practice interpreting data that vary in space and time.
  • Illustrate relationships between precipitation and sea-level pressure in the North Atlantic.

Context for Use

This activity may be used as a follow-on or supplemental in-class exercise, laboratory assignment, or homework assignment for InTeGrate Climate of Change Module - Unit 2. Ideally, students understand how to read contour maps. For an extended lab or homework assignment, this activity may be combined with Case Study 3.2: Exploring Patterns - ENSO and NAO on the Global Stage. Case Study 3.2 asks students to focus on sea surface temperature anomalies and compare the NAO with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, whereas this exercise asks students to identify pressure and precipitation anomalies. This activity will take approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete, including a ~20-minute introduction.

Description and Teaching Materials

The data for students are in a PowerPoint file. Depending on the format of the class, students may access these data electronically, or you may wish to make color or black-and-white printouts for students to view in class. There are three types of data: precipitation, precipitation anomalies, and pressure anomalies. The student handout posted here has questions that guide students through the examination of data.

Case Study 2.2 Data Sheets
Click to view

Case Study 2.2 Data Sheets (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 726kB May12 14)

Case Study 2.2 Data Sheets (black-and-white version) (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 625kB May12 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity may be easily modified, depending on whether students are in class, working in groups, or working individually, in class or at home. If students are working on the assignment individually, in a lab, or at home, they may access the data electronically, in PowerPoint. If completing this activity in class, students could be divided into groups, with one group examining the pressure data, and the other examining the precipitation data. The data could be available electronically or printed out.

Teaching Tips

In introducing this activity, it may be important to start by mentioning climate variability, as discussed in in Unit 1.

Introduce the North Atlantic Oscillation by first showing a January climatological surface pressure chart that illustrates the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. The NAO occurs when there are shifts in the Icelandic Low and the Azores High (students may not know where the Azores are, so it is important to point this out).

Introduce them to or review the term anomaly, and show students the different plots they will be looking at (precipitation and pressure). Students may need some explanation as to what the colors mean on the plots. Also, to draw connections with Unit 1, it might be helpful to mention the possible connection between the NAO and the Vikings.

Take a moment to get students to visualize what a 1 mm/day precipitation anomaly would mean for annual total precipitation.

Allow students to use globes to familiarize themselves with names of countries in the North Atlantic.

Keep students focused on the North Atlantic, and tell them not to pay attention to anomalies they see in Siberia.

Assessment

In reviewing work on student handouts, you may also assess the following:

  • Can students identify anomalies? (They must locate anomalies and describe the magnitude of these anomalies.)
  • Are students able to make a connection between an anomaly and a climate impact? (This means they must be able to describe impacts associated with an anomaly (e.g. more rain in Spain during the negative phase of the NAO).
  • Are students able to articulate an hypothesis regarding why pressure anomalies are having an impact on precipitation? (Students with very little background may suggest that changes in North Atlantic pressure are affecting rain or cloud formation. Students with more background may recognize that a shift in the pressure pattern can affect the jet stream, and that the piece of information they would need to confirm this hypothesis is upper level wind fields. The important thing here is that students take the time to develop an hypothesis, whether or not it is correct.)

Also, Case Study 3.2: Exploring Patterns - ENSO and NAO on the Global Stage may be used to assess how well students understand the changes that occur during each phase of the NAO.

Answers to the questions in the student handout are in this document:

Case Study 2.2 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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References and Resources

Data contained in the PowerPoint for this activity comes from 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 »