Global Climate Change – Online Lab Activity
• View evidence for climate change and logically evaluate the evidence
• Calculate your personal carbon footprint and evaluate the effect of your choices on the
Individually complete the following activity. Be sure to complete all parts of the activity and
answer all questions. You may type your answers directly on this document. You must submit
your completed document to the turn in link in the “Lab Exercises” Tab on Blackboard.
Part 1: Background Information – Read the following information and answer the
Weather vs. Climate
Weather refers to specific atmospheric events or conditions that happen over a period of hours
or days. A tornado, a hurricane, an overcast sky, a thunderstorm and today’s temperature all
describe the weather. Weather is highly variable from day to day and from one year to the
Climate refers to the average weather conditions in a given place over many years, usually
more than 30 years to account for the range of natural variation from one year to the next.
Global climate change refers to the pattern of changes happening around the world over many
years. The average temperature is often used to ostensibly describe climate because it has
been increasing globally for many decades. Yet, as outlined below, there are many factors
besides average temperature that characterize global climate.
In sum, weather and climate are not synonymous. Weather is a term to describe daily
characteristics of the atmosphere, while climate refers to the long-term trends or patterns in
the atmosphere and its effects on land and water. Just because there is a blizzard during
January (weather) doesn’t mean we are entering another Ice Age (climate).
Evidence for Climate Change
Scientists need large amounts of data to understand trends in global climate patterns, and to
detect changes in these patterns. Reliable written records of climate extend back to the 1880s.
To determine the climate patterns prior to the 1880s, scientists used indirect evidence, called
proxies, to determine climate during past time periods. Climate proxies that serve as source of
data include tree rings, ice cores, sediment (soil) cores, patterns of glacial ice at the poles and
the ratio of stable oxygen isotopes in coral reefs. Analysis of historical records has revealed an
undeniable shift in global climate. In the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change1, scientists concluded, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and
since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.”
• Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at Earth’s surface than any
preceding decade since 1850.
• During the last two decades, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica have been losing
mass, glaciers have continued to shrink worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern
Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.
• The rate of sea level rise since the 1850s has been greater than the mean rate during
the previous 2,000 years.
• Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) – carbon dioxide (CO2),
methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) – have increased to levels greater than have
been documented in the last 800,000 years.
Impacts of Climate Change
Alterations to the water cycle
Melting glaciers near the pole and melting permafrost in tundra ecosystems not only releases
additional CO2 into the atmosphere, but also affects runoff and the availability of freshwater.
Changes in weather patterns
Increased GHG concentrations and global average temperature affect weather patterns at a
regional level. Longer and more intense heat waves in urban areas are documented, as well as
drought, especially in semi-arid regions of the world, including the western U.S. where many
food crops are grown for distribution across the U.S. Other climate related extremes, such as
longer and more intense hurricanes, cyclones, floods and wildfires, are expected.
Sea level rise
As global ice sheets melt near the poles, there will be large and irreversible sea level rise; the
extent of sea level rise depends on the magnitude of global average temperature increase. Sea
level rise will affect both human and natural communities along coastlines.
Shifts in available habitats for species
As average global temperature increases and regional weather patterns occur, species that live
on land in freshwater and marine ecosystems must adapt to changing conditions or become
extinct. Ecological data have already indicated shifts in habitat quality, foraging and nesting
resources, and interactions with other species. Some species, especially those adapted to a
wide range of conditions will become more abundant, while other species adapted to very
specific or specialized habitats and resources will become threatened or extinct.
Climate change has negatively affected yields from agricultural crops in many regions in the
world. The four most important crops, wheat, corn, rice and soybeans, have had global
reductions in yields. In addition, shifts in marine habitats will affect the abundance of fish,
crustaceans and mollusks. As a result, these and other foods scarcer, which in turn drives up the
cost of food in increases the risk of regional conflict over resources.
Changes in disease patterns
Warmer temperatures drive shifts in the geographic patterns of pathogenic microorganisms.
For instance, Chagas Disease, a tropical illness, has become more common in the Northern
Hemisphere. Similar shifts are expected in other tropical and sub-tropical diseases.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (2013). Climate change 2013: The physical
science basis. Summary for policy makers. Retrieved from: http://www.ipcc.ch/
1. Rank the impacts of climate change based on how critical you think they are.
1 (most critical):
6 (least critical):
2. Explain your reason for ranking the impacts in the order you did.
(Continue to Part II below)
Part II. Chasing Ice Documentary – View the documentary and answer the questions
To access the documentary:
• Click on this link: https://www.filmplatform.net/product/chasing-ice/ and it will bring
you to this page
Click on the play button (this will cause the following screen to appear)
Select “Towson University” from the drop down menu
Log in using your TU ID and Password (this will cause the following screen to
Type “Chasing Ice” in the Search Bar (this will cause the following screen to
Click on “Chasing Ice”
Finally, click the play button to view the video
1. What is normal behavior for glaciers during the winter versus the summer months?
2. What is the EIS? What is the main goal of the project? In which countries did they set up
3. What is calving? How does global warming affect the rate of calving events?
4. What is the “record in the ice cores”? How do we use this to study climate change?
5. What other impacts or changes in the environment are we seeing due to climate change?
6. Describe the “steroid” metaphor.
7. Where does the “black dirt” seen in Greenland come from? What does it create? What
can you see in these holes?
8. How much could sea level rise? How many people could be displaced?
9. Which glacier retreat was the most shocking to you during the presentation that James
Balog gives? Why?
10. James Balog is doing everything he can to expose the truths about melting glaciers around
the world. Who else needs to address this issue? What needs to be done to reduce
(Continue to Part III below)
Part III. Carbon Footprint - Read the following information and answer the questions.
A carbon footprint is the calculation of the greenhouse gases produced by an entity. We can
talk about carbon footprints for events, products, corporations, human behaviors or individual
people. While it may not be possible to incorporate every variable, you are able to estimate
your carbon footprint, based on your normal lifestyle. There are many websites that help you
calculate your carbon footprint. One major reason for calculating your carbon footprint is to
then develop strategies to decrease that number.
1. Choose any footprint calculator online (google “carbon footprint calculator”) and
calculate your carbon footprint. Write your carbon footprint below.
2. What are 3 things you could do to decrease your carbon footprint?
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