Lesson 6: Your Temperature Connections


You've done a lot in CP Carbon Connections! Nice work!

Next, you'll make more connections to humans, and to people like you on the Colorado Plateau. How do carbon and climate connect to what you do each day? You'll see some ways, as you use a climate model and an Energy Use Monitor in the following lessons.

Temperature Stations

Temperature Stations at the Grand Canyon and Lees Ferry, AZ

First, recall some key ideas you've learned in CP Carbon Connections. This helps you make some connections in the next set of lessons:

In Lesson 6, you'll start by looking at Earth's temperature the past 120 years. This temperature for Earth comes from stations like in the photos above from the Grand Canyon and Lees Ferry, Arizona. From Earth's temperature record, you can test factors that influence that temperature. Temperature is a key part of climate. By seeing how carbon relates to climate, you can be part of the solution.

6a. Temperature Averages

In high school, you use averages, or means. This may be in math, business, economics, or science. Averages give you a value near the middle of a group of measurements. Maybe you've heard of a batting average in baseball. Or, you might be watching your grade point average. It tells you how you are doing in school.

But how do scientists use averages to learn about climate? Do an activity with your class to model how climate stations on Earth give that average.

Materials per student team

Beaker with Thermometer

Listen to your teacher for the set-up of the activity below. Then follow these steps with your team.

  1. Sketch in your notebook a map of your classroom. Show the location of each water container that your teacher has set out.
  2. Listen for when to place the thermometer in the water. Measure the water temperature.
  3. Share temperatures for all the containers. Record the temperatures directly on your map, or in a table.
  4. Determine the average for all the temperature readings. Draw a box around this value.
  5. Listen to your teacher for whether you will do another measurement. Are the containers warming or cooling? If so, see how the average changes.

6b. Taking Earth's Temperature

Temperature Stations

To learn about Earth's climate, you would need to take Earth's temperature. But where would you measure that? If you measured at one place, say the Equator, then the temperature would be too hot. Or, measuring at the poles would be too cold. Maybe you could go half way, to latitude 45°. But then most land and continents are north of the Equator. Also, do you measure over land, ocean, or both?

You modeled this effect in the opening activity. Different containers were in different locations in your classroom. They also had different temperatures. These were different than the average.

To take Earth's temperature, scientists use a network of climate stations. The figure above shows that the network of stations spans Earth. At each station, temperatures are measured. Arizona has about 35 stations that are part of the global average for Earth's temperature. Two, pictured below, are in Canyon de Chelly and Flagstaff, Arizona.

Temperature Stations

The daily data give an average per month. Then for each month, results from all stations in the global network are computed together for a global average. You calculated an average like this at the beginning of Lesson 6, even if it was a simple average for your classroom.

However, a simple average doesn't quite work. Areas with lots of stations, such as United States and Europe, would be overrepresented. This would give an offset, or bias, for areas with lots of stations. Thus, scientists correct for this so the monthly mean for Earth is not biased. The effects of the seasons are also removed in that global average. The month-to-month data doesn't reflect the season in the northern or southern hemisphere. The result is for all of Earth — a global average. It's a temperature for all Earth in a given month.

Because your computer is not online, go to the video folder and open Ta5year.mov in your computer's media player.

Note a few things in the animation of global temperatures from 1880-2008:

Click for the animation of global temperature over the last 125 years. Answer questions 6-8 about patterns you see.

  1. What year were you born? Go to the 5-year interval with that year in the middle (e.g., for 1995, go to 1993-1997). Estimate the temperature anomaly when you were born.
  2. What regions of the globe are the most "anomalous" at that time? Were they cold or warm?
  3. What trend do you see in colors? Does this match the trend of the value of Ta (upper right).
  4. Global Temperature Record
  5. NASA workers have taken Earth's temperature from the global network. They have average data for temperatures from 1890-2009. Write two things that you see in the graph for this NASA record.
  6. Global Temperature Record
  7. Other countries, including Great Britain, have also compiled a temperature record from these climate stations. Compare their data with the NASA data by completing the sentences below:

    A similarity in the two data sets is __________________.
    A difference in the two data sets is __________________.

Temperature data for Earth improved markedly starting in 1979. The number of climate stations increased in the 1960s and 1970s. More importantly, a new generation of NASA satellites was launched. One satellite looked at changes in radiation from the Sun. Another satellite measured temperature of the atmosphere. Temperature data from satellites is a critical way to confirm if the ground-based stations are accurate. Thus, the past 30 years (1979-2010) is the highest quality record on Earth's climate.

Launch the interactive below. Use it to compare climate data from different groups from 1979 through 2010. Be sure to grab the temperature records and slide them up-and-down.

  1. What is the third climate team with ground-based data? Have you heard of them? Compare their record with the NASA and British data.
  2. Change scales by clicking on the "1979-2010." Select one or both of the satellite-based records.
  3. Note the temperature change from 1991 to 1992. It is in all the records. Is the change a cooling or warming? You'll learn more about this event in lesson 8.
  4. From 1979-2010, do the data show an overall increase or decrease?

These data agree remarkably well. The data are independent, yet you see the same change in Earth's average temperature. You see:

The satellite data are not "tuned" to data at temperature stations. Thus, these measurements give scientists confidence in temperatures from the ground-based network. Next, you will investigate possible causes for the patterns.

Climate Effect: Drought
Global warming means less water for the Southwest — both because it's likely that there will be less rain, and because a warmer atmosphere will cause more water to evaporate. People of the Southwest can expect more intense and more frequent droughts, with severe impacts on people and the landscape.

6c. Manipulating Models

This gets you to the heart of the issue — what factors affect Earth's climate? You'll work as a scientist to explore this question with a real climate model in Lesson 7. Think in terms of inputs (forcings) that lead to an output (response). By adjusting the inputs in the climate model, you can test factors that affect Earth's temperature. Climate scientists, like those at NASA, NOAA, the Naval Research Laboratory, and other research centers, use models like this.

First, answers these questions. Then try the model yourself:

  1. Think of 1-2 factors that you think could affect the global temperature. What are these?
    1. Write these on the left side of your notebook.
    2. On the right side, write whether you think that they might lead to warming or cooling.
    3. Share your ideas with a colleague near you. Discuss your ideas with them.

Open the interactive model. You'll see a black line with the global temperature record. It goes 30 years, from 1979 through 2010. You'll also see 4 slide bars. These are for 4 key forcings on the global temperature record. You'll learn more about these forcings in the next lesson.

As you change the climate forcings, note these lines on the graph:

As you test the model, you'll also notice a bar to the right. See if you can figure out what the bar is telling you about the forcings and temperature. Have some ideas about this before you start Lesson 7!