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Global Climate Change: What Does it Look Like?

Co Authors:

Ronald L. Carnell
Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
University of Washington Bothell

Rebecca M. Price
Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
University of Washington Bothell


In this interrupted case study, Ph.D.-paleoclimatologist-turned-TV-meteorologist Sara Fahrenheit finds herself projected into a future climate that reminds her of the Early Eocene: it's hot, it's humid, and seems tropical. The story is a vehicle for teaching students how to distinguish between climate and weather by exploring the difference between average conditions and one-time anomalies. Students explore how to minimize the impact of their own carbon footprint and how small changes can scale up to make a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the case, students find, graph, and interpret data about global climate change. They also learn why a shift in just one degree Celsius can impact the Earth's climate dramatically. The case is appropriate for college classes and advanced high school classes in general science, history of life, climatology, environmental science, and ecology.

  • Use the concept of average to distinguish between weather events, such as El Niño and La Niña, and climate.
  • Describe some of the data and methods that paleoclimatologists use to reconstruct ancient climates.
  • Practice finding, graphing, and interpreting data about global climate change.
  • Construct scientifically based predictions about climate change.
Keywords: Global climate change; weather; El Nino; La Nina; graphing; Eocene; paleoclimatology; carbon dioxide; greenhouse gas; carbon footprint
Topical Area: Policy issues, Science and the media
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Analysis (Issues), Interrupted, Jig-Saw
Language: English
Subject Headings: Climatology / Meteorology   Environmental Science   Ecology   Earth Science   Atmospheric Science   Geology   Biology (General)   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 1/6/2012
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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