Evaluating Natural and Human Activities Effects on Earth's Climate
In this mini lesson, students analyze a bar graph showing the relative forcings from natural and human factors that affect Earth's climate. They use information from this graph to assess the relative importance of these factors.
What happens when the amount of energy entering into the Earth system does not equal the amount that exits? This is a simple question with a complicated answer.
Imbalances in the Earth's Energy Budget are called radiative forcings. They cause chemical and physical changes in the Earth system that impact the climate. An example of this imbalance is the current trend in Earth's Energy Budget; the Earth system has more energy entering than leaving (called a "positive forcing"). Conversely, if more energy exits than enters the system, the planet would cool ("negative forcing").
Energy into Earth - Energy leaving Earth = Radiative Forcing Amount
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the radiative forcing was nearly balanced, and Earth's atmosphere was relatively stable. Scientists use a year prior to this era, 1750, as a baseline. This baseline year is used to compare radiative forcings and measure the impact of anthropogenic activities of modern times that affect our climate. See the chart below to identify and analyze the warming or cooling effects of these forcings. Notice that there are two main categories: anthropogenic (human-caused) and natural.
- Review the chart above and answer the following questions. Check with your instructor on how to submit answers.
- What is the net total value of radiative forcing (in watts per square meter) of natural activities? Anthropogenic (human) activities?
- Of the anthropogenic activities, which factor has the greatest value? What category does this belong to?
- Which of the factors have both a cooling and warming effect on climate?
- Why is the year 1750 selected as a baseline?
- What are three questions that you can ask of this chart?
- Climate Change Indicators: Climate Forcing | US EPA. (2021, July 21). US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-climate-forcing
Teachers, these mini lessons/student activities are perfect "warm up" tasks that can be used as a hook, bell ringer, exit slip, etc. They take less than a class period to complete. Learn more on the "My NASA Data What are Mini Lessons?" page.
Teachers who are interested in receiving the answer key, please complete the Teacher Key Request and Verification Form. We verify that requestors are teachers prior to sending access to the answer keys as we’ve had many students try to pass as teachers to gain access.
Supported NGSS Performance Expectations
- HS-ESS2-4: Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
- HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth's systems.
- HS-ESS3-6: Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.
Supported Common Core Math
- CC.9-12.S.ID.1 Summarize, represent, and interpret data on a single count or measurement variable. Represent data with plots on the real number line (dot plots, histograms, and box plots).*
- CC.9-12.S.ID.2 Summarize, represent, and interpret data on a single count or measurement variable. Use statistics appropriate to the shape of the data distribution to compare center (median, mean) and spread (interquartile range, standard deviation) of tw
- CC.9-12.S.ID.3 Summarize, represent, and interpret data on a single count or measurement variable. Interpret differences in shape, center, and spread in the context of the data sets, accounting for possible effects of extreme data points (outliers).*
- CC.9-12.S.ID.5 Summarize, represent, and interpret data on two categorical and quantitative variables. Summarize categorical data for two categories in two-way frequency tables. Interpret relative frequencies in the context of the data (including joint, m
- CC.9-12.S.ID.6 Summarize, represent, and interpret data on two categorical and quantitative variables. Represent data on two quantitative variables on a scatter plot, and describe how the variables are related.*