GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 246-4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM


RESOR, Phillip G., Earth and Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, 265 Church St, Middletown, CT 06459, DUNN, Allison L., Earth, Environment, and Physics, Worcester State University, Worcester, MA 01602 and MACKAY, Robert M., Physics and Meteorology, Clark College, Vancouver, WA 98663,

Despite the scientific consensus regarding climate change, the underlying processes governing Earth’s climate remain poorly understood by the public at large. We have developed a module, entitled Earth’s Thermostat, through the NSF-funded InTeGrate project that seeks to bridge this gap in knowledge by helping students understand Earth’s climate system, its sensitivity to changes in its drivers, and how it interacts with Earth’s other systems.

The module consists of six class-length units that can be taught over a two-week period as a stand-alone module, sprinkled throughout a course or used individually to address a specific topic. Climate, its fluctuations, and its societal relevance are introduced through a student-centered exploration of the global temperature record since 1880 (Unit 1). Students then investigate the various factors that affect the global climate system including solar flux, greenhouse gases, and volcanic aerosols, as well feedbacks within the climate system (Units 2 and 3). Students assess their own climate impact and ways they might reduce it through a carbon-footprint take-home exercise. In the second week students investigate spatial variability in the earth's radiation budget using NASA ERBE data and how the atmosphere acts to redistribute heat around the globe (Units 4 and 5). In the final unit (6), students synthesize what they have learned by predicting the climatic and societal impacts of a major volcanic eruption and comparing this climate event to greenhouse gas-driven climate change.

Earth’s Thermostat is designed for introductory science courses that address Earth's climate system and/or climate change. The authors have piloted the module in an introductory geoscience course at a 4-year liberal arts college, an introductory physical geography course at a 4-year state university, and an introductory meteorology course at a 2-year community college. Students who participated in these courses showed improvement in their ability to explain elements of the climate system and to create conceptual models of potential climate change drivers through embedded summative assessments, significant gains in overall geoscience literacy (p<0.001), and increased motivation to create a sustainable society and/or pursue careers with a focus on sustainability.