Warming of the Climate

Background Information

Warming is evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level. Although carbon dioxide is responsible for more of this warming than any other emitted chemical, and stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, it is not the only cause.
Observed and projected warming is dominated by the effects of human activities, and is not solely due to natural cycles in the Earth’s orbit or the Sun’s radiation. Agriculture and fossil fuel combustion are the dominant human activities responsible for this radiative forcing.

Suggested Activities

  1. Carbon Sources and Sinks
  2. Global Climate Change Debate
  3. Greenhouse Gases Exposed
  4. Measuring Quantities of Gas
  5. Paleoclimates and Pollen

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Use the scientific method and available data to analyze and evaluate perspectives on climate change
  • Summarize evidence for climate warming due to GHG in their own words
  • Identify major greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, and list their major sources and relative influence on climate
  • List sources of GHG emissions by sector/activity (transportation, agriculture, deforestation, tundra, volcanoes, etc…), and identify their relative importance to radiative forcing
  • Differentiate between natural and anthropogenic variability
  • Summarize paleoclimate changes
  • Discuss natural variability due to Milankovitch cycles
  • Compare natural variability to “hockey stick” diagram

Applicable Standards:


Earth and Space Science

  • 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

Nature of Science

  • B.12.1 Show how cultures and individuals have contributed to the development of major ideas in the earth and space, life and environmental, and physical sciences
  • B.12.3 Relate the major themes of science to human progress in understanding science and the world
  • B.12.5 Explain how science is based on assumptions about the natural world and themes that describe the natural world

Physical Science

  • D.8.2 Use the major ideas of atomic theory and molecular theory to describe physical and chemical interactions among substances, including solids, liquids, and gases
  • D.8.4 While conducting investigations, use the science themes to develop explanations of physical and chemical interactions and energy exchanges
  • D.8.5 While conducting investigations, explain the motion of objects by describing the forces acting on them
  • D.8.6 While conducting investigations, explain the motion of objects using concepts of speed, velocity, acceleration, friction, momentum, and changes over time, among others, and apply these concepts and explanations to real-life situations outside the classroom
  • D.8.7 While conducting investigations of common physical and chemical interactions occurring in the laboratory and the outside world, use commonly accepted definitions of energy and the idea of energy conservation
  • D.8.8 Describe and investigate the properties of light, heat, gravity, radio waves, magnetic fields, electrical fields, and sound waves as they interact with material objects in common situations
  • D.12.11 Using the science themes* , explains* common occurrences in the physical world
  • D.12.12 Using the science themes* and Knowledge of chemical, Physical, atomic, and nuclear interactions*, explain* changes in materials, living things, earth’s features, and stars

Science Connections

  • A.8.3 Defend explanations and models by collecting and organizing evidence that supports them and critique explanations and models by collecting and organizing evidence that conflicts with them
  • A.8.5 Show how models and explanations, based on systems, were changed as new evidence accumulated (the effects of constancy, evolution, change, and measurement should all be part of these explanations)
  • A.8.6 Use models and explanations to predict actions and events in the natural world

Environmental Education

Environmental Issue Investigation Skills

  • EE C.8.4 Evaluate the credibility of information, recognizing social, economic, political, environmental, technological, and educational influences.
  • EE C.12.1 Compare the effects of natural and human-caused activities that either contribute to or challenge an ecologically and economically sustainable environment

Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems

  • EE B.8.5 Give examples of human impact on various ecosystems
  • EE B.12.8 Relate the impact of human activities in ecosystems to the natural process of change, citing examples of succession, evolution, and extinction
  • EE B.8.15 Analyze how people impact their environment through resource use
  • EE B 8.17 Explain how human resource use can impact the environment; e.g., erosion, burning fossil fuels

Questioning and Analysis

  • EE A.8.4—Use critical-thinking strategies to interpret and analyze gathered information

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