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For decades the debate was raging: "the planet is warming," "no it isn't." The issue became highly politicized due to the inherent costs in mitigating suspected causes of warming. And when the evidence indicated that the planet was indeed warming, the debate turned to whether or not the warming was part of a natural cycle or human-induced.

Early in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report titled: "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis." The report synthesizes scientific understanding of global warming and makes predictions based on the use of state-of-the art climate models. A significant conclusion of the report is that it is "very likely" that emissions of green house gases from human activities accounts for most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures.

The IPCC report states that it is "unequivocal" that Earth is warming based on increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, global melting of ice and rising global sea levels. The report also states that the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane far exceed the normal range over the past 650,000 years. It also states that the pattern of increase in these gasses is unprecedented in the past 10,000 years.

Other Indicators of Climate Change include:

  • Eleven of the past 12 years rank among the hottest on record (since 1880 when global measurements began).

  • Over the past 50 years, "cold days, cold nights, and fronts have become less frequent, while hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent."

The IPCC makes projections of climate change for the second half of this century, stating that the outcome depends on the level of heat-trapping scenarios. "If we take no action to reduce emissions, the IPCC concludes there will be twice as much warming over the next two decades than if we had stabilized heat-trapping gases and other climate relevant pollutants in the atmosphere at their 2000 year levels." From: "Findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change Science," by the Union of Concerned Scientists.



Your team is a member of Citizens Concerned about Climate Change. You have gotten an audience with a U.S. senator from your state to share your findings concerning the implications of unchecked growth of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere. The senator has acknowledged that he or she is not an expert on the science of climate change, and has in fact admitted to being confused by the conflicting information sometimes presented in media reports.

For example, the senator has heard that long-term climate models shouldn't be taken seriously since short-term weather models sometimes can't even get the forecast right for a few days out. Also, the senator wonders if the high economic price to mitigate alleged human-induced changes to climate is worth the expense.

You are of the opinion that your senator is one who can make a difference in the legislative agenda on global climate change. As a group of Earth system science experts, your job is to present the senator with the information necessary to make informed policy decisions, including an explanation of the difference between weather and climate and a list of the pros and cons of acting to mitigate the impacts of climate change.


Date: 7/30/2007

Scenario Images:

Max Temperature: 1895-2100 - Time Series Animation
U.S. Max Temperature: 1895-2100 - Time Series Animation

Click here to watch the movie

This movie was created from the model output results of one of the two of the most frequently cited climate simulation models - that developed by the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research. Click here to view the model output results created using model results from the Canadian Center for Climate Modelling. Note: Each movie is approximately 9.0 megabytes in size and may take a long time to load, please be patient.

These data products were created as teacher resources by EOS-WEBSTER at the University of New Hampshire

Global and Continental Temperature Change
Global and Continental Temperature Change
from "Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis," IPCC Fourth Assessment.

Click here to see a larger version of the image.

The black line represents observed surface temperature changes for the globe and each continent (based on temperatures recorded by measuring stations around the world). The blue band represents how the climate would have evolved over the past century in response to natural factors only (according to 19 computer simulations derived from five different climate models); the brown band represents how the climate would have changed in response to both human and natural factors (according to 58 computer simulations derived from 14 different climate models). The overlap of the brown band and black line suggests that human activity very likely caused most of the observed increase since the mid-20th century. Temperature change is plotted relative to the corresponding average for the 1901 to 1950 time period. Source: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policymakers. Click here to download the report.



Articles on Climate Change at the Encyclopedia of Earth (Cycle A)
The Encyclopedia is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who collaborate and review each other's work. The articles are written in non-technical language and are useful to students, educators, scholars, professionals, as well as to the general public.


Findings of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change Science (Cycle A)
The Union of Concerned Scientists website provides a summary of the February 2007 IPCC report: "Climate Change Science 2007."


Global Climate Change Research Explorer (Cycle A)
At this Web site, you can explore scientific data relating to the atmosphere, the oceans, the areas covered by ice and snow, and the living organisms in all these domains. You'll also get a sense of how scientists study natural phenomena, how researchers gather evidence, test theories, and come to conclusions.


Global Warming Questions and Answers (Cycle A)
From why global warming is a problem to whether increased solar activity could be behind it, this Q&A article includes responses to common questions about global warming.


NASA's Climate Change Site (Cycle A)
A very comprehensive NASA site on climate change. Click on "Experience Earth satellites in 3D" link and then check out near real time visualizations from NASA satellites.


NOAA's Climate Change Site (Cycle A)
Climate-related information from NOAA.


Uncertainty, Risk and the Future (Cycle A)
From the American Museum of Natural History, this article addresses these questions: "To what extent do we know what future climate will be like and how the changes will affect our world? Here we explore these two questions by investigating the sources of uncertainty in future climate and then considering the associated risks."


Ask Dr. Global Change (Cycle B)
FAQs about global climate change.


Climate Change in the Encyclopedia of Earth (Cycle B)
The Collection is anchored by an electronic version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Nobel Prize-winning reports. It also includes articles by climate experts, biographies of individuals who have made important contributions to climate science and policy, a timeline of key events in the history of climate science and policy, a climate glossary, and much more. Scientists, educators, environmental professionals and concerned citizens should find the Collection to be an invaluable resource.


Drivers of 20th Century Climate Change (Cycle B)
From the American Museum of Natural History: "Observations show that substantial climate changes have also occurred during the 20th century, including increases in global mean temperature, decreases in the extent of snow in the Northern Hemisphere, rising sea levels, and the melting of glaciers around the world."


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Cycle B)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been established by WMO and UNEP to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.


NOAA Global Climate Change Site (Cycle B)
Website of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) - the world's largest active arcive of weather and climate data. The site includes numerous reports and resources, including access to long-term weather and climate data.


US Global Change Research Information Office (Cycle B)
The US Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) provides access to data and information on climate change research, adaptation/mitigation strategies and technologies, and global change-related educational resources on behalf of the various US Federal Agencies that are involved in the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).


EOS-Webster Teacher Resources (Cycle C)
The EOS-Webster Project at the University of New Hampshire has partnered with several other organizations to develop Earth science data products for use in middle and high school to college level courses. They are also creating data products (such as MPEG movies) from existing data collections that can be used in a classroom environment. These include visualizations of how climate has changed in the United States in the last century and how it may change in the future.


Exploring the Environment (Cycle C)
A NASA-sponsored web site featuring problem-based learning modules.


Problem-Based Learning Network @ IMSA (Cycle C)
The Problem-Based Learning Network at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy has an extensive collection of articles, tutorials and other resources.


USC California Science Project (Cycle C)
USC California Science Project used problem-based learning to train K-12 science teachers. They could then use PBL to instruct the students in their classrooms.


Sample Investigations:


Discovery Channel -- Global Warming, What You Need to Know, ... (Cycle A)
A longer (1:27:32) video from the Discovery Channel on climate change. Dtd Jan 23, 2012.
Difficulty: beginner


Earth Exploration Toolbook: Is Greenland Melting? (Cycle A)
Using My World GIS, students explore data that characterize the dynamic Greenland Ice Sheet. By examining photographs, map views, and tabular data, students gain an understanding of how and why scientists are monitoring the ice sheet and what they are finding.
Difficulty: intermediate


Exploring the Environment: Earth on Fire (Cycle A)
A module from the NASA Classroom of the Future's Exploring the Environment site which investigates humankind's impact on the global environment. For grades 10-12.
Difficulty: advanced


Energy: A Balancing Act (Cycle B)
This PBL module was developed as part of the series Investigating the Climate System. The series includes five modules: Clouds, Energy, Precipitation, Weather, and Winds. While these materials were developed under one series title, they were designed so that each module could be used independently. For advanced middle school and high school.
Difficulty: intermediate


Exploring the Environment: Global Climate Change (Cycle B)
Create an Earth system science analysis to predict the effects of increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide on the yield of hard red winter wheat in Kansas. For Grades 5-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


Using Google Earth to Explore Impact of Climate Change (Cycle B)
Includes a Google Earth video tour with Kofi Annan explaining the effects of our changing climate, and how individuals and organizations are working to cope with them. Plan a lesson around showing this video in your classroom to get your students thinking about climate change. Then explore the specific effects of climate change in Google Earth using the data layers provided.
Difficulty: beginner


Earth Exploration Toolbook: Exploring Regional Differences in Climate Change (Cycle C)
Most people understand that significant climate changes are predicted in the next century, but they may not be aware that these changes will likely vary regionally. Using climatological data from the University of New Hampshire's EOS-WEBSTER, users will obtain annual predictions for minimum temperature, maximum temperature, precipitation, and solar radiation for Minnesota and California to explore this regional variability. Data will span the years 2000 through 2100. Users import the data into a spreadsheet application and analyze it to interpret regional differences. Finally, users download data for their state and compare them with the other two states to answer a series of questions about regional differences in climate change. For advanced high school and undergraduate.
Difficulty: advanced


Earth Exploration Toolbook: Visualizing Carbon Pathways (Cycle C)
In this chapter, you'll build animations of satellite data that illustrate carbon sources and sinks to help you visualize Earth's carbon cycle. This activity is designed to familiarize teachers and/or students with accessing and analyzing data. It can be used as a professional development activity for teachers of any level, or it can be assigned directly to students. The activity is most appropriate for students in grades 7-10.
Difficulty: intermediate


MY NASA DATA: Earth's Energy Budget - Seasonal Cycles in Net Radiative Flux (Cycle C)
Uses radiation data from the CERES saellite instrument to understand seasonal variations in the pattern of net energy input to the Earth system. For grades 9 - 12. Estimated Time for Completing Activity: One 50-minute class period Learning objectives: students will use the Live Access Server to investigate th Earth radiation budget in order to understand how Earth's tilt causes seasonal differences in incoming solar energy. They will develop an understanding how features of the Earth system, such as clouds and deserts, modulate the reflection of energy from the Sun. For grades 9-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


Reduce Carbon Footprint (Cycle C)
"Reduce global warming by taking quick & easy challenges.
Compete with others in your area and around the world." Yes, this site does assume that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide increases the greenhouse effect and contributes to global warming. This site was featured in an article in the May 26, 2008 Time Magazine. School teams can compete to see which team can reduce its carbon footprint the most.
Difficulty: beginner




  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical and human characteristics of places
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How human actions modify the physical environment
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