InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Climate of Change > Unit 3: Anomalous Behavior > Case Study 3.2 - Exploring Patterns: ENSO on the Global Stage
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Case Study 3.2 - Exploring Patterns: ENSO on the Global Stage

Cynthia M. Fadem, Earlham College (fademcy@earlham.edu)
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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 Exemplary Teaching Collection

Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review 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

I designed this activity to allow students who have become somewhat familiar with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation to explore the reality of ocean surface temperature data. Students analyze a time series of SST anomaly maps to create an ENSO timeline. You can implement this teaching collection as part of the Climate of Change InTeGrate Module, Unit 3, or as a stand alone activity.

Learning Goals

In this activity students will:
  • Read global sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly maps.
  • Assess the state of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation from SST anomaly maps.
  • Create a time line of changes in ENSO conditions.
  • Assess the recurrence interval of the ENSO system.

My goals in creating this activity were to:

  • Encourage students to think critically about cause and effect in the climate system.
  • Help students to process the connections between different ocean surface anomalies.
  • Allow students to discover both the patterns in and uncertainties of ocean-atmosphere phenomena.
  • Empower students to use their observational and quantitative skills to gain deeper understanding of Earth processes.

Context for Use

Prior to the activity some discussion of ENSO will be necessary. If you are using the rest of Unit 3, no additional instruction is necessary.

For the second part of the the activity, students will need to know how or be taught to calculate recurrence intervals.

This activity takes roughly 35 minutes and can be used

  • as a solitary activity in an introductory geology, meteorology, geography, or environmental science class,
  • as a lab on ENSO when coupled with case studies 2.1, 2.2, 3.1, 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 this activity students analyze data maps of SST anomaly for early December of 1997 to 2011 (1 per 2 yrs) and create an ENSO time line. Not all of the maps are straightforward with regard to oscillation expression, so you should be prepared to counsel students on how to make sense of real ocean data. (See below for tips.) This exercise allows them to synthesize what they have learned and evaluate global ocean surface data.

Questions embedded in the activity ask them to reflect on their findings and the nature of ocean-atmosphere systems. Many of the 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 time series of 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 the real ENSO maps from this activity with their predictions from Case Study 3.1.

Materials:

Case Study 3.2 Display
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Display:



Teaching Notes and Tips

Students may be overwhelmed by the number of images and the complexity of the real data in the activity.
  • Talk about how to look at the maps—what the anomaly data really mean.
  • Suggest an anchor, something that is easy to recognize, like the light yellow and blue of normal temps or a strong El Niño signature. (Notice the series starts with the intense El Niño of 1997.)
  • Students may find it easiest to start the time line with the full span, mark the recognizable peaks in first, and then fill in the rest around those they see most clearly.
  • If the students struggle with their initial identifications, point out an example or two to get them started.

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 »