Torrents, Droughts, and Twisters Oh My!

Main content

Students review current scientific understandings of the relationship between extreme weather events and climate change.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will research the nature of science and the process of scientific research to obtain evidence to support or refute ideas.
  • Students will investigate the scientific process that requires a review of scientific research and/or theoretical models, and the explanations proposed by other scientists' research to advance our knowledge of the natural world.
  • Students will investigate the current state of knowledge about severe weather and the impact of increasing global temperatures on severe weather.
  • Students will discuss and present their research to classmates and demonstrate their knowledge about the state of current scientific evidence.

Time

  • Class time: Approximately three class periods plus ample research time during class or for homework over 2-3 days

Educational Standards

Next Generation Science Standards

  • PE:MS-ESS3-2. Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects;HS-ESS2-2. Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
  • DCI: PS3.B. Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer; ESS2.A.Earth Materials and Systems;ESS2.D. Weather and Climate
  • SEP: Analyzing and Interpreting Data; Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
  • CCC: Energy and Matter, Cause and Effect

Materials

Directions

  1. As a pre-assessment exercise, ask students to rank which weather and/or climate phenomena scientists feel are most influenced by or influence Earth’s increasing heat-trapping gases using Student Worksheet A provided.
  2. Following the pre-assessment, ask students to read and discuss the student content titled, Torrents and Droughts and Twisters – Oh My! Students should record what they learn about the scientific consensus, if any, regarding each extreme event and its connection to climate change. For more in-depth research, have students look for scientific evidence in science journals and/or news reports between one of the extreme events and its connection to climate change. Students could also review the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from the Intergovernmental Policy on Climate Change (IPCC) and/or the 2014 National Climate Assessment. Have each student serve as an “expert” for the phenomenon they have researched, ideally writing notes pertaining to content within the report they find relevant to their phenomenon and increasing greenhouse gases.
  3. Have “experts” gather in small groups to discuss what they’ve learned about their phenomenon by reviewing reputable source documents. Their research should help to determine the degree of confidence regarding their phenomenon’s connection to climate change. Each group should report their research to the class using presentation or multimedia software of their choosing.
  4. Bring the class together as a whole and have each group of experts present their phenomenon and any of their findings linking it to Earth’s increasing climate change.
  5. Following the class discussion, have students review their initial rankings on Student Worksheet A and rank again the degree of confidence found within peer-reviewed science regarding relationships between various natural phenomena and heat-trapping gases.
  6. Compare the class rankings to the actual order of phenomena that scientists know are most closely linked to Earth’s increasing greenhouse gases and those that are less certain at this point in time.
  7. During a final review of the activity, remind students that believing that there is a relationship between severe weather and increasing global temperatures does not make it so. Evidence must exist to support all scientific conclusions and our knowledge changes and advances over time.

Assessment

Each group should report their research to the class using presentation or multimedia software of their choosing. A rubric to assess each presentation is attached.

Background

Torrents, Droughts, Twisters Oh My! article by Bob Henson, UCAR Office for Science Education

Extensions

To build and reinforce an understanding of the nature of science, ask students how they feel about the knowledge and confidence that scientists have currently regarding extreme events and their relationship to climate change. Ask them to explicitly state how science works to establish relationships and how it differs from other ways of learning and knowing. What type of data do scientists need to prove or disprove an idea? If the students were scientists, what data would they seek to obtain to help them prove or disprove correlations and causations? What is the difference between correlation and causation, and why is the distinction important to know? What questions do students have about the connections between extreme weather and climate change? What would they need to know and do to answer these questions? Allow students to attempt to answer these questions if they remain interested and motivated to seek such answers. If possible, connect with a climate scientist who is working in this area via Skype or other distance learning platform to learn more about their research and that of the larger climate science community.

Related Resources

Credits

  • This activity was developed by Teri Eastburn with the UCAR Center for Science Education and is based on an article written by Bob Henson with the UCAR Office of Communications.