Investigating Earth’s Changing Climate

Submitting Organization: Lawrence Hall of Science and Amplify

Grade Level: 6th Grade – 8th Grade

Subject Area: Science

Standards Alignment: Next Generation Science Standards

  • Practice 2: Developing and Using Models
  • Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  • NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • ESS2.A: Earth’s Materials and Systems: All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and matter cycling within and among the planet’s systems. This energy is derived from the sun and Earth’s hot interior. The energy that flows and matter that cycles produce chemical and physical changes in Earth’s materials and living organisms. (MS-ESS2-1)
    • ESS2.D: Weather and Climate: Weather and  climate are influenced by interactions involving  sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions  vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. (MS-ESS2-6)
    • ESS3.D: Global Climate Change: Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (MS-ESS3-5)

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

  • Systems and System Models
  • Energy and Matter

Description of the Activity: Using the Earth’s Changing Climate Simulation, students will engage in a mission in which they try to find ways to make the ice on Earth melt. The Simulation allows students to investigate factors that affect Earth’s temperature including amount of sunlight, atmospheric gases, surface reflectivity, and human activities; students can evaluate the effects on temperature, ice cover, and energy absorbed by Earth’s surface.

Begin by telling students that scientists have found that the amount of ice on Earth has been decreasing. Ask for students to think about how they might explain the decreasing ice, and have a few students share their ideas. Tell students that they will be using a digital simulation that is a model of the Earth system, to investigate more about what could be causing the ice to melt.

Introduce the simulation and give students some time for free exploration. Then, review the following aspects of the Sim:

  • Outer Space: This is separated from the atmosphere by a dotted line.
  • Energy travelling into and out of Earth’s atmosphere: This is represented by yellow arrows.
  • Energy Absorption: The yellow circles show when the surface absorbs or takes in energy.
  • Amount of energy absorbed by the surface: This is represented by a yellow glow emanating from Earth. As the amount of energy absorbed by Earth’s surface increases, the glow increases in brightness.
  • Amount of ice on the surface: The white area represents ice, and that can increase, decrease, or stay the same.

Give students their mission: to try to make the ice on Earth melt in the Sim. If students would benefit from more direction, project the Sim and point out the controls in the right-hand toolbar that allow them to change different aspects of the Sim. Explain that they should use those controls to complete this mission.

 Have students record the strategies they used. Afterwards, have students discuss the relationship between ice melting, global average temperature, and energy absorbed by Earth’s surface.

Discussion QuestionsAfterwards, discuss these questions:

  1. What did you do to melt the ice?
  2. How did the global average temperature change when you made the ice melt?
  3. How did the energy absorbed by the surface change when you made the ice melt?

Resources Needed: One digital device per pair of students, to access browser-based simulation. 

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