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6: Climate Change

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    Learning Objectives

    After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

    • Describe the climate system and how different variables are related
    • Discuss how ancient climate patterns are reconstructed
    • Plot, interpret, and explain the patterns in climate proxy data focusing on the sea ice extent in the North and South Poles
    • Describe how heat is transported across the earth and how this can relate to local climate
    • Describe the information needed to make conclusions regarding scientific patterns and how climate models should be constructed

    • 6.1: Introduction
      Climate is an average of the long-term weather patterns across a geographic area, which is a complicated metric controlled by factors within the lithosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and anthroposphere as well as factors beyond our own planet. It is helpful to separate out humans from other life for several reasons, primarily because many of our activities are unique amongst life (industrialization) and it is helpful in understanding our role in climate change.
    • 6.2: The Climate System
      As was previously mentioned, climate is the long-term weather pattern across a region. It is important to emphasize the long-term portion of the definition to establish that climate is different from weather. Weather is the local and short-term patterns in temperature, humidity, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, wind, and other meteorological variables.
    • 6.3: Climate Proxies and the Climate Record
      The first method most students think about when we talk about recording climate is using a thermometer to directly measure temperature. There are actually a few problems reconstructing climate patterns this way, including that the thermometer gives a very local signal. Given that direct observations do not give us the long-term trends needed to establish climate change or patterns, we must look at a natural recorder of climate called a climate proxy.
    • 6.4: Lab Exercise (Part A, B, and C)
      As with Chapter 4, you will be expected to input your answers to this lab in several ways. There will be a couple of multiple-choice questions, but for the majority of the lab you will write your answers in the provided text box. This allows you to show your work in the questions requiring calculations as well as allowing you to answer open-ended questions thoroughly with multiple sentences. You will be expected to use correct grammar and complete sentences in your answers.
    • 6.5: Heat Transport and Ocean Currents
      As was mentioned earlier in the lab, the tropics are warmer than the poles because of differences in the angle at which solar radiation impacts the Earth. Very little solar radiation reaches higher latitude areas because the solar radiation comes in almost parallel to the Earth’s surface. Therefore, most of the thermal energy at higher latitudes comes from the movement of heat from the tropics. Heat is transported across the Earth’s surface through wind currents, storms, and ocean currents.
    • 6.6: Lab Exercise (Part D and E)
      A visualization of the ocean currents can be seen by downloading the file “ocean_currents.kml” either from your course’s website or directly from the Science on a Sphere page from NOAA ( Making conclusions, let alone policy decisions, regarding any complex system such as climate and how it is changing is difficult. You can see how completely accurate data can be misrepresented as well as how accurate data out of context may lead you to an incorrect conclusion.
    • 6.7: Additional Resources
      To learn more about the science behind climate change and the scientific communities position on anthropogenic climate change see the websites listed on this page.
    • 6.8: Student Responses
      The following is a summary of the questions in this lab for ease in submitting answers online.


    6: Climate Change is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deline, Harris & Tefend (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) .

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