Modeling Climate Change

Background Information

The physics, chemistry, and biology that drive Earth’s climate system are (for the most part) understood and can be modeled quantitatively. These numerical models of the climate system allow scientists to project the impacts of current and future human activities on global and regional climate.

Suggested Activities

  1. Earth’s Energy Cycle – Albedo
  2. Investigating Ice Cores
  3. Planting Trees – Law of Conservation of Mass
  4. Whither Arctic Sea Ice?

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Differentiate between positive and negative feedbacks
  • Compare and contrast various feedbacks including arctic ice, northern march of boreal forest, thermohaline circulation, aerosols, temperature, precipitation, additional CO2, etc.
  • Design imaginary process and predict feedback on the climate system (e.g. what would be the impact of covering the Earth’s surface with white flowers? With black flowers?)
  • List key global impacts including coral bleaching, ocean acidification, drought/floods, disease, sea level rise, crop failure
  • Relate impacts to human daily life
  • Differentiate between impacts at various time scales (years/decades/centuries/millennia)
  • Map regions of climatic vulnerability
  • Compare maps of regions of climatic vulnerability to regions of greenhouse gas emissions

Applicable Standards


Earth and Space Science

  • E.8.1 Using the science themes, explain and predict changes in major features of land, water, and atmospheric systems
  • E.8.3 Using the science themes during the process of investigation, describe climate, weather, ocean currents, soil movements and changes in the forces acting on the earth
  • E.8.4 Using the science themes, analyze the influence living organisms have had on the earth’s systems, including their impact on the composition of the atmosphere and the weathering of rocks
  • E.12.4 Analyze* the benefits, costs, and limitations of past, present, and projected use of resources and technology and explain* the consequences to the environment


  • B.8.1 Describe how scientific knowledge and concepts have changed over time in the earth and space, life and environmental, and physical sciences
  • B.8.2 Identify and describe major changes that have occurred over in conceptual models and explanations in the earth and space, life and environmental, and physical sciences and identify the people, cultures, and conditions that led to these developments
  • B.8.3 Explain how the general rules of science apply to the development and use of evidence in science investigations, model-making, and applications
  • B.8.4 Describe types of reasoning and evidence used outside of science to draw conclusions about the natural world
  • B.8.5 Explain ways in which science knowledge is shared, checked, and extended, and show how these processes change over time
  • B.8.6 Explain the ways in which scientific knowledge is useful and also limited when applied to social issues

Physical Science

  • D.8.9 Explain the behavior of various forms of energy by using the models of energy transmission, both in the laboratory and real-life situations in the outside world

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