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For decades the debate was raging: "the planet is warming," "no it isn't." The issue became highly politicized due to the inherent costs in mitigating suspected causes of warming. And when the evidence indicated that the planet was indeed warming, the debate turned to whether or not the warming was part of a natural cycle or human-induced.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report titled: "Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers." The report synthesizes scientific understanding of global warming and makes predictions based on the use of state-of-the art climate models. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is the most comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change since 2007 when the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was released. It was released in four parts between September 2013 and November 2014.

The IPCC report states that total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.



Your team is a member of Citizens Concerned about Climate Change. You have gotten an audience with a U.S. senator from your state to share your findings concerning the implications of unchecked growth of heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere. The senator has acknowledged that he or she is not an expert on the science of climate change, and has in fact admitted to being confused by the conflicting information sometimes presented in media reports.

For example, the senator has heard that long-term climate models shouldn't be taken seriously since short-term weather models sometimes can't even get the forecast right for a few days out. Also, the senator wonders if the high economic price to mitigate alleged human-induced changes to climate is worth the expense.

You are of the opinion that your senator is one who can make a difference in the legislative agenda on global climate change. As a group of Earth system science experts, your job is to present the senator with the information necessary to make informed policy decisions, including an explanation of the difference between weather and climate and a list of the pros and cons of acting to mitigate the impacts of climate change.


Date: 7/30/2011

Scenario Images:

Max Temperature: 1895-2100 - Time Series Animation
U.S. Max Temperature: 1895-2100 - Time Series Animation

Click here to watch the movie

This movie was created from the model output results of one of the two of the most frequently cited climate simulation models - that developed by the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research. Click here to view the model output results created using model results from the Canadian Center for Climate Modelling. Note: Each movie is approximately 9.0 megabytes in size and may take a long time to load, please be patient.



Articles on Climate Change at the Encyclopedia of Earth (Cycle A)
The Encyclopedia is a free, fully searchable collection of articles written by scholars, professionals, educators, and experts who collaborate and review each other's work. The articles are written in non-technical language and are useful to students, educators, scholars, professionals, as well as to the general public.


Global Climate Change Research Explorer (Cycle A)
At this Web site, you can explore scientific data relating to the atmosphere, the oceans, the areas covered by ice and snow, and the living organisms in all these domains. You'll also get a sense of how scientists study natural phenomena, how researchers gather evidence, test theories, and come to conclusions.


Global Warming Questions and Answers (Cycle A)
From why global warming is a problem to whether increased solar activity could be behind it, this Q&A article includes responses to common questions about global warming.


IPCC Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report (Cycle A)
This Synthesis Report is based on the reports of the three Working Groups of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including relevant Special Reports. It provides an integrated view of climate change as the final part of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).


NASA's Climate Change Site (Cycle A)
A very comprehensive NASA site on climate change. Click on "Experience Earth satellites in 3D" link and then check out near real time visualizations from NASA satellites.


NOAA's Climate Change Site (Cycle A)
Climate-related information from NOAA.


Uncertainty, Risk and the Future (Cycle A)
From the American Museum of Natural History, this article addresses these questions: "To what extent do we know what future climate will be like and how the changes will affect our world? Here we explore these two questions by investigating the sources of uncertainty in future climate and then considering the associated risks."


Climate Change in the Encyclopedia of Earth (Cycle B)
The Collection is anchored by an electronic version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Nobel Prize-winning reports. It also includes articles by climate experts, biographies of individuals who have made important contributions to climate science and policy, a timeline of key events in the history of climate science and policy, a climate glossary, and much more. Scientists, educators, environmental professionals and concerned citizens should find the Collection to be an invaluable resource.


Drivers of 20th Century Climate Change (Cycle B)
From the American Museum of Natural History: "Observations show that substantial climate changes have also occurred during the 20th century, including increases in global mean temperature, decreases in the extent of snow in the Northern Hemisphere, rising sea levels, and the melting of glaciers around the world."


NOAA Global Climate Change Site (Cycle B)
Website of the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) - the world's largest active arcive of weather and climate data. The site includes numerous reports and resources, including access to long-term weather and climate data.


US Global Change Research Information Office (Cycle B)
The US Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) provides access to data and information on climate change research, adaptation/mitigation strategies and technologies, and global change-related educational resources on behalf of the various US Federal Agencies that are involved in the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).


Architecture 2023: A Case Study (Cycle C)
Architecture 2030 is a non-profit organization whose vision is in transforming New York City to reduce green house emissions by 80%.


CAMEL Climate Change Education (Cycle C)
CAMEL is a COMPREHENSIVE, INTERDISCIPLINARY, MULTI - MEDIA RESOURCE for educators, providing over 300 interdisciplinary topic areas and numerous resource types.


Exploring the Environment (Cycle C)
A NASA-sponsored web site featuring problem-based learning modules.


Sample Investigations:


Discovery Channel -- Global Warming, What You Need to Know, ... (Cycle A)
A longer (1:27:32) video from the Discovery Channel on climate change. Dtd Jan 23, 2012.
Difficulty: beginner


Earth Exploration Toolbook: Is Greenland Melting? (Cycle A)
Using My World GIS, students explore data that characterize the dynamic Greenland Ice Sheet. By examining photographs, map views, and tabular data, students gain an understanding of how and why scientists are monitoring the ice sheet and what they are finding.
Difficulty: intermediate


Exploring the Environment: Earth on Fire (Cycle A)
A module from the NASA Classroom of the Future's Exploring the Environment site which investigates humankind's impact on the global environment. For grades 10-12.
Difficulty: advanced


Energy: A Balancing Act (Cycle B)
This PBL module was developed as part of the series Investigating the Climate System. The series includes five modules: Clouds, Energy, Precipitation, Weather, and Winds. While these materials were developed under one series title, they were designed so that each module could be used independently. For advanced middle school and high school.
Difficulty: intermediate


Exploring the Environment: Global Climate Change (Cycle B)
Create an Earth system science analysis to predict the effects of increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide on the yield of hard red winter wheat in Kansas. For Grades 5-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


Earth Exploration Toolbook: Exploring Regional Differences in Climate Change (Cycle C)
Most people understand that significant climate changes are predicted in the next century, but they may not be aware that these changes will likely vary regionally. Using climatological data from the University of New Hampshire's EOS-WEBSTER, users will obtain annual predictions for minimum temperature, maximum temperature, precipitation, and solar radiation for Minnesota and California to explore this regional variability. Data will span the years 2000 through 2100. Users import the data into a spreadsheet application and analyze it to interpret regional differences. Finally, users download data for their state and compare them with the other two states to answer a series of questions about regional differences in climate change. For advanced high school and undergraduate.
Difficulty: advanced


Earth Exploration Toolbook: Visualizing Carbon Pathways (Cycle C)
In this chapter, you'll build animations of satellite data that illustrate carbon sources and sinks to help you visualize Earth's carbon cycle. This activity is designed to familiarize teachers and/or students with accessing and analyzing data. It can be used as a professional development activity for teachers of any level, or it can be assigned directly to students. The activity is most appropriate for students in grades 7-10.
Difficulty: intermediate


MY NASA DATA: Earth's Energy Budget - Seasonal Cycles in Net Radiative Flux (Cycle C)
Uses radiation data from the CERES saellite instrument to understand seasonal variations in the pattern of net energy input to the Earth system. For grades 9 - 12. Estimated Time for Completing Activity: One 50-minute class period Learning objectives: students will use the Live Access Server to investigate th Earth radiation budget in order to understand how Earth's tilt causes seasonal differences in incoming solar energy. They will develop an understanding how features of the Earth system, such as clouds and deserts, modulate the reflection of energy from the Sun. For grades 9-12.
Difficulty: intermediate




  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The physical and human characteristics of places
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How human actions modify the physical environment
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