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Exploring the Link between Hurricanes and Climate using GCM Results

Cindy Shellito, SERC - On the Cutting Edge Collection

In this activity, students examine global climate model output and consider the potential impact of global warming on tropical cyclone initiation and evolution. As a follow-up, students read two short articles on the connection between hurricanes and global warming and discuss these articles in context of what they have learned from model output.

Activity takes two to three 50-minute lesson periods. Computer access is necessary.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2b
Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c
Increased extreme weather events due to climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7c

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
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F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educator needs to cover a lot of topics (modeling, hurricanes etc.) before this activity can be done in a class.
  • Model is a black box to students. Students need to be introduced to modeling prior to doing this activity.
  • In order to make it easier to teach this lesson, educator should read some background information about how the models work and about hurricane formation.

About the Science

  • Great but complex activity that introduces students to climate models. Students work with data from a real and credible climate model. This model has been used to provide data for IPCC reports.
  • Reading assignment includes two relevant and brief journal articles.
  • Hurricanes are an excellent way to discuss climate and climate change because they are in the news often and students are familiar with them. Also they have a large impact on populations. The effect of climate on hurricanes is also a hot topic, so this activity allows students to examine cutting edge research.
  • Comment from scientist: Because the research is cutting edge, it is controversial and preliminary. Whether hurricane frequency and/or intensity has increased is subject to much debate, and hurricanes are not a clear indicator of climate change. It is important to emphasize this, but even so, it may be subject to criticisms of bias. For example, there are references to work by Kerry Emanuel and others, but there don't appear to be references to research by Chris Landsea, which would be good for balance. One of the reasons there is controversy is that we lack a complete historical data record. It wasn’t until satellites went up in the 1960s that we could get a complete global accounting of hurricanes without potentially missing some. It is probably good to mention this as well.

About the Pedagogy

  • Complex but pedagogically well-designed activity that is well-supported by the activity description and the student handout instructions.
  • Interpretation of modeling output, discussion of journal articles, presentations and written summaries offer a mix that engages students of different learning styles.
  • Activity can't just be tossed into any course - a lot of prerequisite instruction is needed.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This is a complete and well-presented activity. All the parts are there.
  • Thorough instructions for downloading the data.

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