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Understanding Climate Change MAST October 22, 2010 Mort Sternheim Rob Snyder

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Presentation on theme: "Understanding Climate Change MAST October 22, 2010 Mort Sternheim Rob Snyder"— Presentation transcript:

1 Understanding Climate Change MAST October 22, 2010 Mort Sternheim Rob Snyder STEM Education Institute University of Massachusetts Amherst

2 The Context for Climate Change Education Is Earths temperature rising? If so, how much are temperatures rising? If so, why are temperatures rising?

3 Factors that influence Earths climate include: Solar Activity. The eccentricity of Earths orbit. The tilt of Earths axis Volcanic eruptions. Earths albedo. Atmospheric composition. Ocean variability.

4 Climate change education provides opportunities for teachers to meet state and national science learning standards. Examples of Massachusetts Science and Technology/Enginneering Framework learning standards include: Identify ways in which ecosystems have changed throughout geologic time in response to physical conditions, interactions among organisms, and the actions of humans. Life Science; Grades 6-8 (Page 53). Describe the effects on the environment and on the carbon cycle of using both renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy. Earth and Space Science; High School (Page 34). Analyze changes in population size and biodiversity that results from natural causes, changes in climate, human activity, and the introduction of invasive, non-native species; Biology High School (Page 56). However, it is very important to understand that knowledge and inquiry skills developed in each of the sciences contributes to climate literacy.

5 A climate-literate person: understands the essential principles of Earths climate system. knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate. communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way and is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate An Example of a Climate Literacy Resource Each essential principle in Climate Literacy: A Guide for Individuals and Communities is supported by fundamental concepts comparable to those underlying the National Science Education Standards and the AAAS Benchmark for Science Literacy.

6 Climate Change Education Also Provides Opportunities for Students To: 1.Develop Spatial Thinking Interpret maps, diagrams, graphs, charts, animations and models. 2.Develop Temporal Thinking Understand how the history of climate change is discovered and future changes predicted. 3.Understand Earth as a Complex System Explore feedbacks that occur between and among components of Earths Climate System. 4.Learn in the Field Collect and analyze real time data and observations. How Geoscientists Think and Learn, Kastens et al., EOS,Transactions, American Geophysical Union; August 4, 2009, p. 265

7 1. Examples of spatial thinking questions associated with climate change education Why does Earths rotation, axial tilt and orbital motion result in seasonal changes in lengths of daytime and the angle of incidence of sunlight? How might changes in the Earths orbit and axial tilt influence Earths natural climate cycles?

8 For many students, diagrams have limited value illustrating why the seasonal change

9 Todays midday altitude at 11:36 AM of the sun in the Boxborough area is 36.6°. ( Sunrise was at 6:10 AM. Sunset will be at 4:50 PM.) gnomon gnomon sun altitude angle sun altitude angle θ Sun shadow of the gnomon Sun shadow of the gnomon.

10 A Globe Walk A model of the Earth/Sun system daily and seasonal changes in the angles of incidence of sunlight. Put a model of the sun in the center of the room. Move a model Earth to its position in orbit for todays date. Locate a point on Earth for Boxborough (42.5°N). Rotate Boxborough to midday. Use a straw to point from Boxborough to the model sun. Use another straw to point from Boxborough to a point south of Boxborough. Measure the angle formed by the two straws. The Globe Walk can also demonstrate seasonal changes in the length of daytime.

11 Natural Climate Cycles Milutin Milankovitch is credited with formulating a theory that describes one cause of climate change. His theory stated that Earths axial tilt and orbital eccentricity influenced Earths climate. His theory can be explored using the Globe Walk.

12 The Holocene Epoch began about 12,000 years ago. The result was the end of the most recent ice age. The early Holocene warming was due principally to orbital changes as suggested by the Milankovitch Theory. Note: the differences between aphelion and perihelion distances are greatly exaggerated in these diagrams.

13 2. Examples of temporal thinking questions associated with climate change education. How do we go back in time to construct a long term history of CO 2 levels in the atmosphere? How do those ancient levels of CO 2 compare with present day concentrations? How can we infer the long term history of Earths temperature using stable isotopes of oxygen? Is there a connections between the pattern of change in CO 2 levels and the pattern of changes in Earths temperatures?

14 Climate Scientists have been collecting data to construct a recent history of CO 2 concentrations in the atmosphere. This NOAA web site explains how data for this graph was collected.

15 Climate scientists drill deep into an ice sheet to study Earths ancient atmosphere in trapped air bubble and water molecules in the ice.

16 The concentration of CO 2 (and other gases) in air bubbles trapped in deep layers of ice reveals the concentrations of greenhouse gases in ancient Earths atmosphere.

17 Climate scientists use ice core data to develop an understanding of the relationship between CO 2 concentrations and Earths temperature cycles.

18 Earths temperature history can be inferred from ratios of stable isotope in water molecules in layers snow and ice at higher latitudes Evaporates more readily Condenses more readily A mass spectrometer determines the ratio of oxygen isotopes in an air bubble in an ice core. During cold periods on Earth, the concentration of more massive and thus less volatile 2 H and 18 O in the ice is lower than during warm periods. During warmer periods, water containing more massive isotopes can reach higher latitudes. This increases the proportions of 2 H and 18 O in the ice.

19 3. Complex system questions associated with climate change education How do positive and negative feedbacks either amplify or diminish climate change? How do plants and animals respond to the results of positive and negative feedback in Earths climate system?

20 Climate Feedback Mechanisms Positive Feedback: Melting snow and ice reveals darker land and water surfaces that were beneath the snow and ice. Darker surfaces absorb more of the Suns energy which causes more melting in a self reinforcing cycle. This positive feedback loop, known as the ice-albedo feedback, amplifies the warming of the atmosphere. Negative Feedback: Increased evaporation of water from warmer oceans could result in an increase in cloud cover. The increased cloud cover would reflect more incoming sunlight. This negative feedback loop would diminish the warming of the atmosphere. (However, the water vapor itself is a greenhouse gas, and this offsets the increasing cloud cover.)

21 The most dramatic temperature changes are occurring in the Arctic region. Warmer and dryer inland summers. Rapid changes in animal habitats. The influx of invasive plant species. A drying up of lakes and rivers. A loss of spring ice melt. A decrease in the late summer Arctic Ocean ice (observed by remote sensing). Note: 40% of the worlds population relies on supplies of high latitude and high elevation snow and ice for their fresh water.

22 August Arctic Ocean Ice Extent Source: NSIDC

23 Students can construct a model of a remote sensing satellite to study an Arctic landscape. For example: they can use colored papers to model transitions from ice to bare ground to vegetation.

24 The LED in the model satellite transforms different colors that it receives into electrical signals Paper Color Trial #1 (millivolts) Trial #2 (millivolts) red orange yellow green3.7 blue black white

25 This graph indicates changes intensities of red, green, and blue light detected by the camera (along a line across the digital photograph of the landscape). Analyzing Digital Images,

26 4. Examples of Field Experiences Students can: Measure albedo and the associated warming effects. Use a gnomon and its shadow to monitor changes in the angle of incidence of sunlight. Monitor the budding of plants in the spring. Collect temperature and precipitation data and compare their data with data published in daily newspapers and on NOAA websites.

27 Measuring albedo Three ways to measure albedo – Light meters. Point down, up, find the ratio. – LEDs and multimeters. (An LED can detect light as well as emit it.) Same idea as light meter. – Digital camera and free ImageJ software. Compare brightness of Xerox paper vs snow, turf, pavement …. Mastech Digital 4- Range 200,000 Lux Luxmeter, $55 (

28 Surface color, angle of incidence and temperature change Measure effects of albedo – Temperature changes of light and dark materials exposed to heat lamps – Measure temperatures of soil, turf, concrete, asphalt, … Measure effects of angle of incidence

29 Two Common Climate Change Educational Issues Concerns some students may have about their future Many web sites provide examples of actions for individuals and communities that reduce the impact of human activity on climate change. The skepticism that some students have about climate change A study of albedo, remote sensing, Earths seasons, and other aspects of climate science can be studied independently of the issue of climate change.

30 Climate Change Education at UMass Amherst The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Institute (STEM Ed) and the Climate System Research Center (CSRC) have developed a wide range of climate change education curriculum materials and presentations. They are available at:

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