This is the first of nine lessons in the "Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change" website. This lesson is an introduction to Earth's climate and covers key principles regarding Earth's unique climate, atmosphere, and regional and temporal climate differences.

Students explore the carbon cycle and the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature. Students create and compare graphs of carbon dioxide and temperature data from one local (Mauna Loa, Hawaii) meteorological station and one NASA global data set. These graphs, as well as a global vegetation map and an atmospheric wind circulation patterns diagram, are used as evidence to support the scientific claims they develop through their analysis and interpretation.

This activity supports educators in the use of the activities that accompany the GLOBE Program's Earth System Poster 'Exploring Connections in Year 2007'. Students identify global patterns and connections in environmental data that include soil moisture, insolation, surface temperature, cloud fraction, precipitation, world topography/bathymetry, aerosol optical thickness, and biosphere (from different times of the year) with the goal of recognizing patterns and trends in global data sets.

In this activity, students gain experience using a spreadsheet and working with others to decide how to conduct their model 'experiments' with the NASA GEEBITT (Global Equilibrium Energy Balance Interactive Tinker Toy). While becoming more familiar with the physical processes that made Earth's early climate so different from that of today, they also acquire first-hand experience with a limitation in modeling, specifically, parameterization of critical processes.

In this activity students download satellite images displaying land surface temperature, snow cover, and reflected short wave radiation data from the NASA Earth Observation (NEO) Web site. They then explore and animate these images using the free tool ImageJ and utilize the Web-based analysis tools built into NEO to observe, graph, and analyze the relationships among these three variables.

In this activity, learners use the STELLA box modeling software to determine Earth's temperature based on incoming solar radiation and outgoing terrestrial radiation. Starting with a simple black body model, the exercise gradually adds complexity by incorporating albedo, then a 1-layer atmosphere, then a 2-layer atmosphere, and finally a complex atmosphere with latent and sensible heat fluxes. With each step, students compare the modeled surface temperature to Earth's actual surface temperature, thereby providing a check on how well each increasingly complex model captures the physics of the actual system.

Students perform a lab to explore how the color of materials at the Earth's surface affect the amount of warming. Topics covered include developing a hypothesis, collecting data, and making interpretations to explain why dark colored materials become hotter.

A simple click-through animation from Scripps Institute's Earthguide program breaks the complex topic of the global energy balance into separate concepts. Slides describe the different pathways for incoming and outgoing radiation.

In this mock mission, students become members of a research team and conduct a series of tasks to audit Earth's radiative budget. They use a Java Applet/visual viewer to access satellite data sets, calculate the balance of incoming and outgoing solar radiation, and defend their answers to a number of science questions.

This activity teaches students about the albedo of surfaces and how it relates to the ice-albedo feedback effect. During an experiment, students observe the albedo of two different colored surfaces by measuring the temperature change of a white and black surface under a lamp.

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