GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 115-10
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM


MOORE, Alexandra1, ZABEL, Ingrid H.H.1, ROSS, Robert1 and HAAS, Don2, (1)Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, (2)Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Rd, Ithaca, NY 14850

Using simple materials commonly found at home anyone, anywhere, can conduct robust experiments that demonstrate fundamental processes of climate change. Both the science of climate change and mitigation strategies such as renewable energy technologies are amenable to exploration with common kitchen implements. For example, measurements of temperature, mass, volume, and time are all routinely made in the process of cooking a meal. These measurements are also fundamental to understanding the quantitative interaction of energy with the Earth, and the flow of material through Earth’s environmental cycles.

We have adapted a series of hands-on climate change activities to be used in a hands-off format by students working at home – or by anyone interested in exploring climate change phenomena. For example, with a metal-stem kitchen thermometer students measure the flux of solar energy across the soil-air interface and quantify the near-surface temperature gradient, a quantity that is fundamental both to the heat balance and seasonal cycle of natural ecosystems, and is the controlling parameter for the renewable technology of ground-source heat pumps. Using the same thermometer, a kitchen scale, and measuring cup, students can quantify the coefficient of thermal expansion for water, and use that measurement to better understand the causes of global sea level rise. The infrared thermometer that many families keep in the medicine cabinet allows students to investigate the infrared absorption of different materials and use these measurements as proxies for the IR absorption of greenhouse gases. A box fan can spin paper pinwheels of different diameters to demonstrate the relationship between the blade diameter and power output of commercial wind turbines.

These activities were developed to support The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change, and are found on PRI’s YouTube channel playlist, “In the Greenhouse,” and on the climate change resources section of the PRI website ( Simple quantitative experiments address some of the biggest hurdles to understanding climate change; when we visualize the invisible, speed up the slow, and connect local measurements to global phenomena students gain first-hand experience that prepares them to address important scientific and societal questions.