The unit begins with an investigation using Google Earth to explore global temperature changes during a recent 50 - 58 year period. Students explore, analyze, and interpret climate patterns of 13 different cities, and analyze differences between weather and climate patterns. Next, students are introduced to the four main Earth spheres (atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere) and explore the structure and composition of the atmosphere with an emphasis on greenhouse gases and the role that ozone plays in the troposphere and stratosphere.


Students explore and investigate concepts pertaining to Earth system energy balance including albedo, and surface and atmospheric absorption and reflection. In the next learning activity, students use Google Earth to determine how latitude, elevation, proximity to bodies of water, and mountain ranges affect a location’s climate.


Next, student learning activities focus on the carbon cycle and the importance of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Students also learn about paleoclimatology and complete a paleoclimate reconstruction lab in which they reconstruct past climates using lake varves as a proxy to interpret long-term climate patterns and understand annual sediment deposition and how it relates to weather and climate patterns. Students then use a Web-based geologic timeline to examine temperature, CO2 concentration, and ice cover data to investigate how climate has changed during the last 715 million years.


Students use a Web-based carbon calculator to determine their carbon footprint and examine their personal and household habits and choices in relation to their carbon footprint. Next, students use Google Earth to investigate geographical areas and populations affected by recent changes in climate patterns.


In the culminating investigation, students use Google Earth to explore evidence of climate change during 1980 – 2010 including changes in Arctic Sea ice extent and changes in the distribution of coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea. They then use Google Earth to explore future world scenarios by examining the effects of a 2-meter rise in sea level on the existing landscape. Students then explore strategies at personal and societal levels to help reduce atmospheric carbon emissions levels.