This resource is a website that is a self-contained, multi-part introduction to how climate models work. The materials include videos and animations about understanding, constructing and applying climate models.
Students explore the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 40 years with an interactive online model. They use the model and observations to estimate present emission rates and emission growth rates. The model is then used to estimate future levels of carbon dioxide using different future emission scenarios. These different scenarios are then linked by students to climate model predictions also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Students consider why the observed atmospheric CO2 increase rate is only ~60% of the CO2 loading rate due to fossil fuel combustion. They develop a box-model to simulate the atmospheric CO2 increase during the industrial era and compare it to the historic observations of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The model is then used to forecast future concentrations of atmospheric CO2 during the next century.
In this activity, students create graphs of real temperature data to investigate climate trends by analyzing the global temperature record from 1867 to the present. Long-term trends and shorter-term fluctuations are both evaluated. The data is examined for evidence of the impact of natural and anthropogenic climate forcing mechanisms on the global surface temperature variability. Students are prompted to determine the difficulties scientists face in using this data to make climate predictions.
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.
This animation depicts global surface warming as simulated by NCAR's Community Climate System Model (CCSM) Version 3. It shows the temperature anomalies relative to the end of the 19th century, both over the entire globe and as a global average. The model shows the temporary cooling effects during 5 major volcanic eruptions and estimates future temperature trends based on different amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.
This video considers the current estimates of sea level rise as possibly too conservative and discusses more recent data on ice melt rates coming from Antarctica and Greenland, showing rates of melt at up to 5 times as rapid. Scientists discuss what levels and rates of sea level rise have occurred in the past, including the Pliocene, which demonstrated 1m rise every 20 years.