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Grades 10-12, Unit 2

Climate Change in My Backyard Activity Guide

Unit 2: Identifying the key changing conditions of the Earth system

In Unit 2, students explore historical temperature cycles including paleoclimate data, more recent historical temperature changes, and current changes in temperature. They then apply one of those methods and use real temperature and tree-ring data to understand how tree growth is affected by both temperature and precipitation, and draw conclusions about what that means for the impact of changing climate on forests. They then expand the climate model beyond temperature to look at changes in precipitation and cloud cover in the United States. The unit continues by having students compare regional climate changes with overall global trends to identify similarities and differences in climate by region. Students recognize that climate change does not impact all areas of the globe equally or in the same ways. The unit concludes by having students write a persuasive essay using what they know about climate and ecosystem responses to climate change.

Activity 2.1: Historical Climate Cycles
Students look at historical records of CO2 data from various sources (fossils, ice cores, tree rings) to understand historical climate cycles. They use this historical background to begin the discussion of how current changes in climate are different from what has happened in the past.

Activity 2.2: What Can Trees Rings Tell Us About Climate?
Students analyze historical tree rings from different locations and species in the United States and draw conclusions about the climatic conditions present during the growing season of each year. They will analyze and interpret tree-ring data, and correlate that data to historical climatic conditions. They will use this knowledge to describe and explain how tree-ring appearance is affected by environmental conditions, how we can recognize seasonal and annual growth in trees, and how we can use this information to develop hypotheses as they relate to current environmental conditions in their region.

Activity 2.3: Are Global CO2 Levels Changing?

  1. Are Global CO2 Levels Changing?During this activity, students learn where CO2 data has been collected, how long it has been collected, and then visualize the overall trends in the data. Students then compare different environments to see if CO2 concentrations are changing all around the world or if changes are only occurring in certain locations.
  2. Temperature and CO2: Students use the NASA GISS Surface Temperature Station Data website (GISTEMP http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/station_data/) to determine whether global CO2 trends students identified in part 1 are consistent with patterns of temperature change around the world. Students discuss why different locations around the world are affected differently or to different degrees by changing climates.

Activity 2.4: Climate Change Around the World

  1. Global Climate Change: Up until now, students have focused on only on temperature in evaluating climate change. Now students will add other climatic factors to their analysis and investigate how changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels affect temperature while also creating changes in precipitation levels and cloud cover and extreme weather events.
  2. Climate Change in my Hometown: Students use the MY NASA DATA website to determine whether U.S. and global patterns of climate change are directly reflected in their city and in cities around the world. They discuss why different locations around the world are impacted differently or to different degrees by changing climates.

Activity 2.5: Review & Assessment: Causes and Effects of Climate Changes
This activity will give students an opportunity to work alone and in groups to summarize what they have learned so far about climate change. Students use graphic organizers to identify the natural and human-induced causes of climate change and its effects on plants, animals, and humans.