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 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). This activity helps students become more familiar with the physical processes that made Earth's early climate so different from that of today. Students also acquire first-hand experience with a limitation in modeling, specifically, parameterization of critical processes.

In this video, students learn that scientific evidence strongly suggests that different regions on Earth do not respond equally to increased temperatures. Ice-covered regions appear to be particularly sensitive to even small changes in global temperature. This video segment adapted from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center details how global warming may already be responsible for a significant reduction in glacial ice, which may in turn have significant consequences for the planet.

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, students use NASA satellite data to explore the seasonal changes in sea surface temperatures of the Gulf Stream. Students use NASA's Live Active Server (LAS) to generate data of sea surface temperatures in the Gulf Stream, which they then graph and analyze.

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.

In this worksheet-based activity, students review global visualizations of incoming sunlight and surface temperature and discuss seasonal change. Students use the visualizations to support inquiry on the differences in seasonal change in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how land and water absorb and release heat differently. The activity culminates in an argument about why one hemisphere experiences warmer summers although it receives less total solar energy.

This short video uses animated imagery from satellite remote sensing systems to illustrate that Earth is a complex, evolving body characterized by ceaseless change. Adapted from NASA, this visualization helps explain why understanding Earth as an integrated system of components and processes is essential to science education.

This image depicts a representative subset of the atmospheric processes related to aerosol lifecycles, cloud lifecycles, and aerosol-cloud-precipitation interactions that must be understood to improve future climate predictions.

This interactive visualization adapted from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey illustrates the concept of albedo, which is the measure of how much solar radiation is reflected from Earth's surface.

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