Analysis of Global Temperature Trends

Dr. Janel Hanrahan

Atmospheric Sciences Department, Lyndon State College

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This lab activity is designed for science students in an introductory climatology course. Upon successful completion of the activity, students will have demonstrated an ability to:

  • Independently navigate and download climate data from online data libraries.
  • Work with different file types (NetCDF and CSV).
  • Write appropriate MATLAB code to read and manipulate climate data, and create plots (time series and maps) as instructed.
  • Extract meaningful information from large 3-dimensional datasets.
  • Understand and apply fundamental climatology concepts, such as:
    • Climate statistics (temporal and spatial mean and anomaly; trends; baselines)
    • Ice-albedo feedback resulting in disproportionate sensitivity to climate change in polar regions

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

The project outcomes are outlined above. The use of MATLAB allows students to obtain and work with various types of data that are freely available from online sources. Skills that are developed include critical thinking, computation, data analysis, synthesis of ideas, and technical writing.

Context for Use

Educational level: College (junior-level atmospheric sciences program)

Activity type: Lab (take-home)

Estimated time for completion: 2 hours

MATLAB experience required: Basic coding experience in MATLAB. Students have already completed other labs which required them to create scripts that save and load variables, compute basic statistics, and generate two-variable figures.

Content required: Students are already familiar with fundamental atmospheric science concepts, such as atmospheric pressure and temperature. This project is assigned in the context of learning about global climate change, statistical analyses of climate data, and climate feedbacks.

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity handout includes step-by-step instructions for completion, including all necessary URLs. Students need access to MATLAB with the mapping toolbox.

Activity handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 23kB Sep29 16)

Teaching Notes and Tips


Final figures for use in assessment: Figure 1 (TIFF 319kB Sep29 16) Figure 2 (TIFF 890kB Sep29 16) Figure 3 (TIFF 889kB Sep29 16) Figure 4 (TIFF 901kB Sep29 16)

References and Resources

Following this lesson plan, students are typically introduced to standardized anomalies (which are often used for climatology indices). It is convenient to show simultaneous maps of climatological values and standard deviations, with a temporal evolution of annual values, annual departures from climatology, and standardized departures from anomalies. Following the layout illustrated here for 500-mb heights Movie Layout (Acrobat (PDF) 215kB Sep29 16), allowing the temporal evolution to play out, students begin to qualitatively see how the values relate to each other and why one may opt to investigate a standardized anomaly over actual values. I also write the equations on the board so students can refer to them while examining the figures. This discussion can easily take up an hour of class time, but I've found it to be very valuable. Climatology of 500 mb heights (TIFF 791kB Sep29 16) Standard deviation of 500 mb heights (TIFF 803kB Sep29 16) Temporal evolution of 500-mb heights ( 1.4MB Sep29 16) (Note: I've found that the video file plays best with the QuickTime player for looping and pausing.)