Case Study 5.2 - Interpretations: Reading the Book of Earth
During this activity students:
- Graph and analyze ice core methane data.
- Calculate the rate of change in modern atmospheric concentration.
- Compare the radiative forcing of CO2 and CH4 quantitatively.
- Predict the next chapter in this story and the place of humanity in it.
My goals in creating this activity were to:
- Demystify climate data by providing students with a comprehensive experience using it, from raw data to interpretation.
- Increase student confidence in quantitative reasoning via guided inquiry.
- Enable students to think critically about climate data and evaluate their implications for human populations.
Context for Use
Prior to the activity some instruction in the nature of glaciers may be necessary for full student comprehension of what exactly their proxy data analysis represents. If you are using the rest of Unit 5, no additional instruction is necessary. The assignment does require basic facility with a spreadsheet or graphing program.
This activity takes roughly 30 minutes and can be used
- as a stand-alone in-class activity on the climate system and climate modeling in an introductory geology, meteorology, geography, or environmental science class,
- as a lab on climate science and climate records when coupled with Case Study 5.1,
- as a lab on rates of glacial change when coupled with Case Study 4.2, or
- as part of the complete Unit 5 and/or Climate of Change InTeGrate Module.
Description and Teaching Materials
This activity focuses on interpreting geoscientific data and examining relative changes in climate.
In the first half of the activity, students graph GISP2 ice core methane data. They interpret this graph and calculate the modern rate of change in methane.
In the second half, students place these data and interpretation into context via comparison of the relative forcing power of methane and carbon dioxide. Guided inquiry allows the students to use basic calculations to predict the climate future and gives them the ability to evaluate our potential responses to this change.
Questions embedded in the activity ask students to analyze their data, reflect on their findings, and evaluate the future we face. Many of their 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 rather than a key.
Display materials are available to provide brief instruction on the GISP2 coring project and to display the data (and then graph, once students have completed graphing on their own).
There are further opportunities for reflection and synthesis if you complete both Unit 5 activities, as students will be better able to place their experience of climate data in a systems context in Case Study 5.1.Materials:
- Case Study 5.2 Student Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 286kB Oct22 15)
- Case Study 5.2 Student Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 373kB Aug25 13)
- Student Data (http://www.gisp2.sr.unh.edu/):
- Case Study 5.2 Student Data (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 17kB Aug25 13)
- Case Study 5.2 Student Data (Text File 7kB Aug7 12)
Teaching Notes and Tips
Students with numeracy issues may have difficulty with quantitative tasks.
- Encourage them to follow the instructions exactly.
- Encourage them to read the questions carefully.
- Explain why a particular question is being asked and what it means, if necessary.
Students without spreadsheet experience may have trouble with accessing and graphing the data.
- It may be most effective to have the class do this part with you, step-by-step if many have trouble.
- If only some have trouble, ask this group to perform the tasks with you.
- If only a few have trouble, help them individually or have them pair up with classmates and encourage co-instruction.
For introductory courses in which students have little experience with earth or climate science prior to this activity, students may find the interpretation and evaluation tasks challenging.
- Have them work in pairs or groups and discuss the questions prior to writing out answers.
- Give a lecture and/or lead a discussion concerning greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect prior to the activity.
References and Resources
Ice Core Data
- NOAA Paleoclimatology: Ice Core Data
- Climate, Adaptation, Mitigation, E-Learning (CAMEL)
- activity: PBS NOVA: Mountain of Ice
- e-book: NASA Earth Observatory: Paleoclimatology