Introduction to Earth's Dynamically Changing Climate

Big Idea

Remote sensing and digital imagery provide us with a vital global perspective on our changing Earth. Comparing measurements of sea level, land ice, Arctic sea ice, and carbon dioxide over the past decades suggest that the Earth’s climate is warming - a phenomenon that is attested to by an increase in the mean annual surface temperature of the Earth’s surface. Examine evidence of climate change from different parts of the Earth’s system and consider what it means to live on a planet with a dynamically changing climate.

Data Activity

Examining the Vital Signs


How is the Earth’s climate changing? Within the mainstream scientific community the fundamentals of global warming and climate change are no longer in question and increasing evidence shows that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and land degradation, cattle ranching, and rice farming, play a significant part in contributing to this change. Examine evidence of climate change from different parts of Earth’s system and consider what it means to live on a planet with a dynamically changing climate.


The AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy call out the importance of understanding the processes that shape the earth:

  1. Human activities, such as reducing the amount of forest cover, increasing the amount and variety of chemicals released into the atmosphere, and intensive farming, have changed the earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere.

  2. Some of these changes have decreased the capacity of the environment to support some life forms. (4C (6-8) #7)

This lesson explores how human activities are impacting the climate system and provides direct experience for the learner in the use of tables, charts, and graphs in making arguments and claims in oral, written, and visual presentations (AAAS Benchmark 12DH7).

These Benchmarks correspond to Content Standard C: Life Science, and Content Standard D: Earth and Space Science, of the National Science Education Standards (NSES).


In this lesson, you will:

  1. Analyze diverse kinds of data around the world that document a warming planet.

  2. Analyze graphical representations and scientific visualizations of data exhibiting climate change.

  3. Consider strategies to engage students in data analysis.

Keeping Notes

Set up a journal to take notes as you participate in this experience. Your journal can be an online tool or offline notebook - whichever works for you and your learning style.

Background Information

The first satellite images of Earth, taken more than 50 years ago, revolutionized our understanding of the world we live in. From our first glimpse of a storm thousands of miles across, a storm that seemed impossibly large at the time, scientists began to realize that the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere all interact with each other to generate our weather systems, and ultimately, our global climate.


This professional development experience was funded by NASA's Global Climate Change Education initiative. This initiative is designed to improve the quality of the nation's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and enhance students' and teachers' literacy about global climate and Earth system change from elementary grades to lifelong learners.

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