What is Climate?

Background Information

Climate is usually described in terms of the mean and variability of temperature, precipitation and wind over a period of time, ranging from months to millions of years (the classical period is 30 years). The climate system evolves in time under the influence of its own internal dynamics and due to changes in external factors that affect climate (called ‘forcings’). External forcings include natural phenomena such as volcanic eruptions and solar variations, as well as human-induced changes in atmospheric composition.

Solar radiation powers the climate system. There are three fundamental ways to change the radiation balance of the Earth: 1) by changing the incoming solar radiation (e.g., by changes in Earth’s orbit or in the Sun itself); 2) by changing the fraction of solar radiation that is reflected (called ‘albedo’; e.g., by changes in cloud cover, atmospheric particles or vegetation); and 3) by altering the long wave radiation from Earth back towards space (e.g., by changing greenhouse gas concentrations). Climate, in turn, responds directly to such changes, as well as indirectly, through a variety of feedback mechanisms. These feedback mechanisms commonly adjust some of Earth’s major systems including the carbon and hydrological cycles.

Suggested Activities:

  1. Air Density and Temperature
  2. Differences Between Climate and Weather
  3. Human Activity and Climate Change
  4. Influence of Carbon Dioxide and Algae Growth
  5. Soils and Climate Change
  6. Sunlight and Evaporation
  7. Thermal Expansion of Water
  8. Whither Arctic Sea Ice?

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Compare and contrast weather prediction and climate prediction
  • Analyze graphs of daily values for a climate variable and compare extremes to the monthly average (or yearly/decadal etc…)
  • Use graphs to explain importance of averaging when investigating climate
  • Describe greenhouse/atmospheric radiative effect

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.8.2 Describe underlying structures of the earth that cause changes in the earth’s surface
  • 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

Physical Science

  • D.8.1 Observe, describe, and measure physical and chemical properties of elements and other substances to identify and group them according to properties such as density, melting point, boiling points, conductivity, magnetic attraction, solubility, and reactions to common physical and chemical tests
  • D.8.3 Understand how chemical interactions and behaviors lead to new substances with different properties
  • D.12.1 Describe atomic structure and the properties of atoms, molecules, and matter during physical and chemical interactions
  • D.12.3 Explain exchanges of energy in chemical interactions and exchange of mass and energy in atomic/nuclear reactions
  • D.12.8 Understand the forces of gravitation, the electromagnetic force, intermolecular force, and explain their impact on the universal system
  • D.12.9 Describe models of light, heat, and sound and through investigations describe similarities and differences in the way these energy forms behave
  • 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

Environmental Education

Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems

  • EE B.8.1 Describe the flow of energy in a natural and a human-built ecosystem using the laws of thermodynamics
  • EE B.8.2 Explain how change is a natural process, citing examples of succession, evolution and extinction
  • EE B.8.10 Explain and cite examples of how humans shape the environment

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