Unit 8c. Climate Change


The goal of this lab is to explore the scientific basis for climate change on Earth.


Figure 8.c.1

Ocean temperature


Before Coming to Class

First, read Modern Global Climate Change - an article that is part of a Science magazine special on the "State of the Planet". In 2004, Science offered a comprehensive look at the issues facing planet Earth over the next 50 years, in a special "State of the Planet" series. This will give you the background to complete the Energy Budget Model portion of the Virtual Global Warming exercise online. Complete the Virtual Global Warming exercise before coming to discussion. Make sure to turn in a copy of your completed certificate for credit.


The Virtual Global Warming activity and Modern Global Climate Change will help us answer questions such as: Is climate change really happening? How do we know? How sure are we? Are human activities causing this or is this natural variation in the Earth's climate? Will these changes in the Earth’s climate result in disastrous consequences?  So after this lab you should have a solid understanding of the climate change debate and be able to discuss it with your congress-person or at the very least tell your grandmother how the climate is changing and why.



Figure 8.c.2

Components of climate change


In Class Activity

First, answer the following question:


How confident are you that the consequences of global warming will be severe enough to warrant changes in the behavior of society?


A. Very Skeptical

B. Somewhat Skeptical

C. Unsure 

D. Somewhat Confident

E. Very Confident


The class should be broken into two groups. The skeptics of global climate change impacts will be on one team including all those people that answered A or B and 1/2 of the C group. Team two will be the advocates and should consist of all students that answered D or E and the other 1/2 of the C group.


Once you have broken up into your teams, make sure that you have fairly even numbers on each. Then, you will discuss global climate change with the goal of trying to bring as many people over to your teams' side as possible. Each team should get together for 10 minutes to:

  • Come up with opening arguments
  • Determine why their position is beneficial to everyone
  • What their best defense and arguments are in support of their position


Team members represented in the skeptics group might include:

  • Member of the Bush Administration
  • Lumberjack
  • Grandparent
  • Petroleum geophysicist
  • CEO of Shell
  • HUMMER driving housewife
  • College Student in a Business School
  • Salesperson


Team members represented in the advocate group might include:

  • Greenpeace member
  • Toyota Prius driving househusband
  • Owner of an Ecotourism Company
  • College Student in Natural Resources
  • Atmospheric Chemist
  • Construction Contractor
  • Salesperson
  • Grandparent


Points for Debate


  • Are we experiencing climate change or is this natural variability in the Earth’s climate?
  • Antarctic glaciers are both advancing and retreating. Is this evidence for or against climate change?
  • Are we experiencing more severe weather or not? Is this related to global warming?
  • Are we experiencing more frequent natural disasters or not? Is this related to climate change?
  • Will atmospheric aerosols and clouds contribute to global warming or global cooling? 
  • Is biodiversity loss related to climate change?
  • Do you or the person you represent have a personal motivation for belonging to one team or the other?
  • Will increasing CO2 concentrations cause global warming or is the Earth’s climate buffered against human activities?
  • El Nino events are increasing in frequency. Is this evidence for global warming?
  • Can we trust climate models or not?


Other Discussion Questions

As a class or in small groups, you may also want to discuss the following questions: 


Question 8.c.1

What are the evidence for, causes of, and consequences of changes in the Earth’s climate since the pre-industrial era?


Figure 8.c.2

Home being washed away in a storm surge


Question 8.c.2

Has the Earth’s climate changed since the pre-industrial era at the regional and/or global scale? If so, what part, if any, of the observed changes can be attributed to human influence and what part, if any, can be attributed to natural phenomena? What is the basis for that attribution?


Question 8.c.3

What types of changes are likely to occur from human-induced climate change?


Question 8.c.4

Explain how the greenhouse effect works. What gases contribute to the greenhouse effect on Earth?


Question 8.c.5

How are atmospheric aerosols expected to affect radiative forcing and global climate?


Question 8.c.6

How are land-use change and global climate change related to one another?


Question 8.c.7

How are drought and heavy precipitation related to global warming?


Question 8.c.8

What happened during the Younger Dryas from 11,500 ~12,700 years ago?


Question 8.c.9

Draw and explain a possible feedback loop that may occur due to global climate change. What is the 'big picture' message of your loop?


Question 8.c.10

What is known about the environmental, social, and economic consequences of climate changes since the pre-industrial era? What are we uncertain about?


Question 8.c.11

What types of changes do we expect to see in relation to the duration, location, frequency, and intensity of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, floods, heavy precipitation, avalanches, storms, tornadoes, and tropical cyclones in the future? How confident are the estimates?


Figure 8.c.3

Surface air temperature increase from 1960 to 2060


Question 8.c.12

What do we expect in relation to the frequency and magnitude of climate fluctuations, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycles?


Question 8.c.13

What is known about the projected changes the sources and sinks of greenhouse gases, ocean circulation, and the extent of polar ice and permafrost? 


Question 8.c.14

How confident are we in the climate models used to simulate future temperature? How do we test climate models?


Question 8.c.15

What types of impacts will these changes have on people and ecosystems around the globe? 


Question 8.c.16

What did you learn from the Virtual Global Warming exercise?










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