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Global Temperature Change in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Global Climate Models and Graphing in Excel (Adapted for Non-Majors)

Author(s): Tamara Basham

Collin County Commuity College District

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Students link human behavior in various climate change scenarios to predicted temperature outcomes at both local (their assigned Latitude) and global (Latitudinal trends) scales. This adaptation is intended to be more accessible to non-majors.


During this three-hour lab activity, students are introduced to Global Climate Models and how they can be used to predict future climatic changes given various “What if” scenarios of human behavior. Students become familiar with using Excel to create graphs and use simple linear regression as a tool for examining relationships between two variables.

Students use their analyses to address two questions: 1) How will human behavior impact future carbon emissions? and 2) Will temperature changes be similar across Latitudes? The first question is answered by comparing Global Climate Model (GCM)-predicted temperatures for the 21st century from three different Emissions Scenarios that vary with regards to human population growth and other human activities that influence carbon emissions. The second question is answered by comparing temperature changes for 12 different latitudes across North America.

Students work in pairs to analyze temperature changes at a single latitude using simple linear regression in Excel. Students then pool their results as a class into a collaborative Excel file in order to compare predicted temperature change from the Polar Regions to the Equator.

In this adaptation of the original module, students use a reduced dataset that has temperatures converted to Fahrenheit in order to make the exercise more accessible to non-majors and non-traditional students with varying backgrounds in Excel and Science. Student understanding of the material and skills acquisition can be assessed using in-class discussion, writing a lab report, and/or a post-lab quiz.

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