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Global Temperatures

The lab activity described here was created by Columbia University Earth and Environmental Science Faculty . This Starting Point page was organized by Robert MacKay, Clark College .
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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 resource received a gold-star rating from a Panel Peer Review

These materials were reviewed using face-to-face NSF-style review panel of geoscience and geoscience education experts to review groups of resources addressing a single theme. Panelists wrote reviews that addressed the criteria:

  1. scientific accuracy and currency
  2. usability and
  3. pedagogical effectiveness
Reviewers rated the resources:
  1. Accept
  2. Accept with minor revisions
  3. Accept with major revisions, or
  4. Reject.
They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.

This activity has been selected for inclusion in the CLEAN collection.

This activity has been extensively reviewed for inclusion in the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network's collection of educational resources. For information the process and the collection, see http://cleanet.org/clean/about/selected_by_CLEAN.

This page first made public: Apr 12, 2006

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students analyze the global temperature record from 1867 to the present. Long-term trends and shorter-term fluctuations are both evaluated. The data is examined for evidence of the impact of natural and anthropogenic climate forcing mechanisms on the global surface temperature variability

Learning Goals

Introduce students to:

1880 to 2002 Global avg temps from NASA

Image from NASA 2002 surface temperature summation (more info)

Context for Use

This activity can be used as a homework assignment or lab activity in an introductory geoscience course with climate change content. Instructors can also use the global average temperature data and graphs for interactive lecture or other graphical analysis activities.

Teaching Materials

All material available at Globally-Averaged Temperature Lab Included are:

Teaching Notes and Tips

The activity assumes that students have seen how atmospheric CO2 concentrations have varied over the past century. See resources below for a image appropriate for a pre-lab discussion.

A great feature of this lab activity is that many of the questions ask students to think about how their region fits into the overall scheme of things. This activity was written for students at Barnard College and Columbia University (both in New York City) but students could easily answer the location specific questions for their local region.

Excel tip. Several times during this activity students are asked to plot graphs for different year of data. An easy way to change data ranges is to click right on the data point of the graph and then edit the series shown in the formula bar. For example, When clicking on the data points of the first plot of this activity changing SERIES(,avtemp.tsv!$O$7:$O$141,avtemp.tsv!$Q$7:$Q$141,1) to SERIES(,avtemp.tsv!$O$130:$O$141,avtemp.tsv!$Q$130:$Q$141,1) makes it very easy to change the plot from all years to the years 1990 to 2001.


Online teaching materials contain student activities that can help promote student learning. These activities can also be used to help assess student understanding of key idea and concepts.

References and Resources

Other relevant links include:

  • The graph below created by Robert MacKay can be useful when discussing global temperatures and global change.

  • CO2 1744 through 2002 Trends Online click to enlarge.


    Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology , Geoscience:Atmospheric Science, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climate Change

    Resource Type

    Activities:Lab Activity, Activities, Datasets and Tools:Datasets with Teaching

    Special Interest

    Complex Systems, Hazards, Visualization

    Grade Level

    College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

    Ready for Use

    Ready to Use, :Meets Peer Review Standard:Anonymous Peer Review

    Earth System Topics

    Climate, Atmosphere, :Weather


    Climate, Atmosphere

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