InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Climate of Change > Unit 3: Anomalous Behavior > Case Study 3.1 - Predicting Patterns: What Does La Niña Look Like?
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Case Study 3.1 - Predicting Patterns: What Does La Niña Look Like?

Cynthia M. Fadem, Earlham College (fademcy@earlham.edu)
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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 and analyze data to understand ENSO and to predict how local ecosystems and people will be impacted.

Cross Cutting Concepts

Systems and System Models: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. MS-C4.1:

Systems and System Models: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems. MS-C4.2:

Patterns: Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena HS-C1.1:

Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. HS-C2.2:

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:

Earth and Human Activity: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity. HS-ESS3-1:

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 is designed to allow students who have been exposed to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation to analyze the La Niña mechanism and predict its outcomes. Students create an SST map for La Niña and both temperature and precipitation maps for the three states of ENSO. The exercise can be completed as part of the complete Climate of Change InTeGrate Module, Unit 3, or as a stand alone activity.

Learning Goals

During this activity students will:

  • Predict the local effects of La Niña based on the mechanics of El Niño.
  • Create precipitation intensity maps for the three states of the ENSO.
  • Predict the regional coastal effects of ENSO based on its mechanics.
  • Consider the global effects of ENSO and its potential long-term impacts.

My goals in creating this activity were to:

  • Encourage students to think critically about cause and effect in the climate system.
  • Teach students to analyze a system using process mechanics/first principles.
  • Enable students to predict system outcomes given changes in state or variables.

Context for Use

Prior to the activity some exposure to El Niño will be necessary. If you are using the rest of Unit 3, which includes lecture material, no additional instruction is necessary.

This activity takes roughly 30 minutes and can be used

  • as a solitary activity in an introductory geology, meteorology, geography, or environmental science class,
  • as a lab on ocean surface oscillations when coupled with case studies 2.1, 2.2, 3.2, and/or your own material, or
  • as part of the complete Climate of Change InTeGrate Module and/or Unit 3 during or outside class time.

Description and Teaching Materials

In the first half of the activity, students demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of El Niño (ENSO+) and ENSO normal conditions by identifying their SST expressions. They then use ENSO mechanics to create a sea surface temperature map for La Niña. This exercise helps them to learn about La Niña as an expression of the ENSO system, rather than as a separate phenomenon.

In the second half, students create precipitation maps for all three ENSO conditions. This part of the activity will likely take a little more time, since they have to process the atmospheric connection between SST and precipitation in concert with three different expressions. Even if they have seen diagrams of ENSO including precipitation, students may have some difficulty making the appropriate connections. This exercise allows them to synthesize and evaluate what they have learned about climate and El Niño.

Questions embedded in the activity ask them to reflect on their projections and the nature of ENSO. Many of your students' responses will vary in both correctness and insight. Depending on the rest of your course material and students' experiences, you will have to gauge acceptability of some responses; so the instructor's notes are simply a guide and not a key.

The display version of the SST maps is available in case you cannot print student assignments in color.

There are further opportunities for reflection and synthesis if you complete both Unit 3 activities, as students will be able to compare their predictions from this activity with real SST anomaly maps from Case Study 3.2.

Materials:

Case Study 3.1 Display
Click to view
Display:



Teaching Notes and Tips

Some students may have difficulty projecting La Niña.

  • First ask them to review and perhaps diagram the El Niño and normal conditions. From there ask them to increase wind strength and predict how the process diagram would change. Then it should be easier to progress to a temperature map.
  • If they still do not grasp the mechanics, ask them to consider what happens when wind strength decreases, which they should already know from El Niño, and simply ask what they think would happen if the opposite occurred.

Depending on the rest of your course material and your students' experience, you may have to approach the projection of precipitation intensity differently.

  • Because of the nature of tropical precipitation and the structure of my climate course, I build the discussion on convection, which they have already learned in the context of both plate tectonics and the Coriolis effect.
  • Once they have made a connection between SST and precipitation, the task is simply to translate the three temperature maps they have into precipitation intensity maps.
  • If you prefer, you can simplify the assignment by telling them to mark only areas of high precipitation, rather than filling in the whole map.

Assessment

You can use this activity formatively or summatively, but I recommend using it formatively if you are using only one of the Unit 3 activities. You can develop exam questions to assess this activity directly from the learning outcomes.

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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 »