Lesson Plans

Climate Change Inquiry Lab

GPM

Purpose

In this lesson, students will conduct labs investigate the drivers of climate change, including adding carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, sea level rise, and the effect of decreasing sea ice on temperatures. They will become experts on one of these areas, conduct their own experiments and connect them to real-world data, and then make posters to present their findings to the class.

To start the lesson, students will think about what they have heard about climate change and look at a cartoon and graph of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Then, students will be divided into expert groups looking at a few factors driving climate change – increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, melting sea ice, and the comparative effect on sea level of melting land ice versus sea ice. As they complete the labs, they will visit relevant websites to learn additional information. The labs can also serve as an introduction to the online investigation detailed in the GPM lesson Climate Change Online Interactive. To present their findings to the class, students will make posters outlining the problem they have experimented with and researched, including data from the experiment, how it relates to the real world, as well as any additional relevant data from NASA or other sources. Students can give presentations to the whole class, a small group, or display the posters for a gallery walk.

Credit: NASA GPM

Learning Objectives

  • Students will investigate the effect of simulating the addition of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) on temperature.
  • Students will investigate the effect of the simulated reduction of Arctic sea ice on ocean temperatures.
  • Students will investigate aspects of climate change’s drivers by conducting experiments and reporting back on what they have learned.

NASA Phenomenon Connection

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. Studying these climate data collected over many years reveal the signals of a changing climate.” Credit: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence

 

NASA is monitoring five main vital signs of the planet: carbon dioxide, global temperature, Arctic sea ice, land ice, and sea level. “The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century. Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. Increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.”

Credit: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence

Essential Questions

  • What effect will carbon dioxide have on temperature?
  • How does melting sea ice affect the Earth System?

Materials Required

  • Computers, or printouts of activities to complete while labs run
  • Poster paper and markers (or computers to create digital presentations, if preferred)

Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise
(per group)

Sea Ice and Ocean Temperature
(per group)

Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature
(per group)

  • large graduated cylinders (2)
  • water
  • ice cubes 
  • funnel
  • flat containers (2) - plastic bins, cut open cardboard cartons, or something similar
  • thermometers or temperature probes (2)
  • tape
  • towels for insulation (optional, but recommended)
  • heat lamp and bulb
  • graduated cylinder or measuring cup
  • water
  • aluminum foil (to represent sea ice)
  • beakers or clear plastic containers (2)
  • plastic wrap
  • rubber band or string
  • thermometers or temperature probes (2)
  • tape
  • If you can use digital thermometers or temperature probes, they will work best, as the temperature differences between the two containers in both the Sea Ice and Ocean Temperature and Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature can be only a few degrees (or even less than a degree in some trials attempted by the author.)
  • For Sea Ice and Ocean Temperature, using relatively small containers (such as cut open, quart-sized cardboard cartons) and a relatively small amount of water (200 mL in those containers), as well as insulating the outside of the containers (cloth or towels wrapped around the outside and taped on) seemed to help. If you have longer than 30 minutes to leave the experiments set up, that will also help, but do be aware of the heat generated by heat bulbs, and make sure nothing gets near the bulb to burn.

Background Information

The Earth's climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years, there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.

 

 


Teacher Notes:

  • For differentiation purposes, the Melting Ice and Sea Level Rise Lab is the simplest and most fool-proof, so most suited to students with the least practice with lab skills.

Procedure

Engage:

Use GPM Climate Change Inquiry Labs – Presentation to show students a cartoon about Santa reading a newspaper about global warming and commenting about giving out lumps of coal (slide 3). Use it as a starting point to discuss what students have heard about climate change and global warming. Next, show students a graph of atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii (slide 4) and ask them what they observe about the graph and what might have caused the change seen. Students will probably be able to make the connection between the increasing use of cars, as well as increasing demands for electricity, often produced by coal-burning power plants. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas on which humans have the most impact. While the data in the graph is from ground sources, NASA also monitors climate indicators from space.

Explore:

Divide students into groups, which will become experts on one lab investigation and share results with the larger group (slide 5-6). See the Teacher Notes section later in this document for tips on the set-up and implementation of the labs. In addition, these labs could serve as a hands-on introduction to the GPM Climate Change Online Interactive Lesson – the combination of experimentation and computer research could then be presented in the posters.

You will likely need to duplicate the labs and have several groups complete the same experiment, depending on your class size.

  • Sample results from the Sea Ice and Ocean Temperature Lab, set-up as pictured below: (200-watt incandescent bulb, about 25 cm from the top of cartons, 200 mL of water in each carton)

sample results

  • Sample results from Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature Lab, set up as pictured below: (200 watt light bulb, about 20 cm from the cups)
Sample results from Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature Lab,
Sample results from Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature Lab. Credit: NASA GPM
picture of Sample results from Carbon Dioxide and Air Temperature Lab,
Credit: GPM

 

Explain:

After the experiments are complete, students will make posters outlining the problem they have researched – including data from their experiment, how it relates to the real world, as well as relevant data from NASA or other sources. You could have each group create a poster, or have individuals complete their own, in class or as homework. If computers are available, electronic presentations could be created instead of posters. Students should use the rubric (slide 7 and at the end of this document) to guide them as they create the posters. The GPM Climate Change Inquiry Labs – Student Capture Sheet has space for students to make notes about each of the three topics when they are presented. Depending on the time you have available, you could have each group do an oral presentation to the class, divide students into smaller groups (each with a student who completed each experiment) to share the information as experts or display the posters for a gallery walk. Also in the presentation are videos to supplement student explanations from the posters.

  • A Warming World -
    (slide 8)

 

  • Melting Ice, Rising Seas -
    (slide 9) The slides have questions for the students to think about while they watch, and there is space on the Student Capture Sheet for them to write the answers. See the notes of the PowerPoint for possible suggested answers.

Evaluate:

The rubric at the end of this document can be used to evaluate the posters.

Elaborate/Extend:

Extensions