Uncertainty in Science

Background Information

There is inherent uncertainty in attempting to simulate or predict the climate system, just as there is in attempting to predict local weather. This uncertainty does not mean that we do not understand the system, and is a part of all science, not unique to the study of climate. Through the use of statistical methods and climate modeling, we can quantify uncertainty by estimating the probability of different possible outcomes. These methods show that there is greater likelihood of catastrophic warming due to greenhouse gases already emitted than there is that observed climate change is due to natural phenomena alone.

Suggested Activities

  1. Greenhouse Gases in the Global Atmosphere

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • differentiate between observed and modeled data in climate reports/data origins
  • interpret graphs with error bars
  • differentiate between probability and predictability
  • compute simple probabilities
  • compare and contrast weather prediction and climate prediction
  • explain the interaction between uncertainty and predictability in climate science

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

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • H.8.1 Evaluate the scientific evidence used in various media (for example, television, radio, Internet, popular press, and scientific journals) to address a social issue, using criteria of accuracy, logic, bias, relevance of data, and credibility of sources

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