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Climate Status Investigations
Department of Energy
National Energy Technology Laboratory
home Curriculum Grid
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Lesson 1. Special Delivery
Introduction to concept of global climate change | Multiple Disiplines

Links on this page: Definition Sheet

National Education Standards Met:

sciencelanguage disciplinesocial studies discipline


Background: To open the investigation the students will receive a package in “the mail” from Dr. Barry Metric, Chief Supervising Climate Research Scientist at The National Energy Technology Laboratory. We suggest items to place in this box although each teacher should decide what items will best catch the interest of the students. In order to make this more believable you may want to ask your school secretary to bring in the package and explain that it was just delivered by courier service.

Goal: Introduce students to the term Global Climate Change and some of the data to support that the climate of the world is changing over time.

Objectives: Students will…

  • Develop a basic understanding of some of the ways in which the climate of the earth is changing
  • Explore and consider evidence

Materials (for a class of 30):

Time Required: 45 - 60 minute period

Standards Met: S1, S6, LA1, LA2, LA3, LA7, LA11, LA12, E1, G1, G5


  • Explain to students that they will be learning about the earth’s climate.

  • Hand out the Special Delivery-Definitions sheets. Go over the definitions and allow students to share what they know or connect with about the vocabulary.

  • Have a parent volunteer, school secretary, other teacher or principal interrupt your class and explain that a courier just came to the school office with special delivery package for your class.

  • Ask the students if they were expecting anything – ask if it is anyone’s birthday or special occasion.

  • Pretend to be a little wary of the package.

  • Open the package and take out the DVD and show it to the students.

  • Play the DVD

  • Ask the students to gather around one desk and take the items out one by one handing them to the students and asking them to display them on your desk or a table so that everyone can see them.

  • Ask students to return to their seats.

  • Lead a discussion about the contents of the parcel and what the items have in common.

  • Write down each item that comes out of the box and what the possible connection might be to the climate of the world.

  • Tell students that it looks like someone needs help figuring out what is going on with the climate of the world and ask the students if they would like to help investigate and give some answers.


  • Have students copy down the list of items that were in the special delivery box and ask them to poll their family members about what connections they see between climate change and the evidence that was received.


  • Student participation

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Global Climate Change Definition Sheet

To adjust to changes in environmental variables.

The responsive adjustment of a sense organ (as the eye) to varying conditions; the process of adapting to something (such as environmental conditions).

Having to do with man, or caused by humans.

The area in which all air exists; this sphere contains all of the gases that surround the earth.

A property of ecosystems related to the number of different plant and animal species they contain.

Scientific study of the interactions among the biological, geological, and chemical systems of Earth, including the cycling of matter and energy through them; biogeochemical (adverb).

Major division of the ecological communities on Earth characterized by the plant and animal life of that region.

The area in which all living things exist; this sphere includes all of the microorganisms, plants, and animals of Earth, even humans.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
A colorless, odorless, incombustible gas, CO2, formed during respiration, combustion, and organic decomposition and used in food refrigeration, carbonated beverages, inert atmospheres, fire extinguishers, and aerosols.

Carbon sink
A place where carbon accumulates and is stored. For example, plants and trees are carbon sinks; they accumulate carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis and store it in their tissues as carbohydrates and other organic compounds.

Carbon source
A place where carbon is produced or released. For example, plants release carbon in the form of carbon dioxide when their tissues are broken down during combustion. In addition, cars release carbon dioxide as they burn gasoline, and power plants release carbon dioxide when they burn fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)
Anthropogenic aerosol compound containing chlorine, fluorine, and carbon that is used in propellants, refrigerants, and solvents; freon.

Long-term pattern of weather that characterizes a region.

CO2 Sequestration
The process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and making it unavailable for release back to the air.

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The sum total of earth's fresh water supply that is locked up in frozen forms including polar ice, mountain glaciers, permafrost and snow.

An area of low-pressure often associated with stormy weather.

The removal of trees from a previously pristine area, generally by logging to obtain lumber products.

Communities of plants, animals and bacteria, generally composed of producers, consumers and decomposers that share a common physical and chemical environment.

The movement of gaseous water (water vapor) from the Earth's surface to the atmosphere; evaporate (verb).

Substance that is released or discharged, usually into the air; emit (verb).

Eustatic Sea Level Change
Changes in sea level caused by changes in the water volume of the world's oceans, such as those brought about by the formation or melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps.

Fixation of carbon
Another name for the photosynthetic process, whereby carbon is removed from the air and "fixed" or incorporated into plant tissues.

A shorthand term for the "fixation of carbon," which is the process by which plants remove CO2 from the air and incorporate it into their tissues.

Food chain
A sequence of organisms in an ecosystem in which each member feeds on the member below it.

Fossil fuels
Deposits of organic matter that have been altered over geologic time (since the Earth's formation) and can be burned for energy; for example, coal, crude oil, and natural gas.

Global carbon cycle
The cyclical movement of carbon within the biosphere. Carbon is primarily removed from the air by plants during photosynthesis and by dissolving in bodies of water. Carbon is generally returned to the air via biological respiration, decomposition of organic matter, volcanic activity, and society's industrial activities, including the combustion of fossil fuels.

Global climate change
A change in the long-term weather patterns that is characteristic of regions of the world.

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Greenhouse gases
Gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane that are relatively transparent to the short wavelength solar radiation that emanates from the sun but that are fairly opaque to the longer wavelength thermal radiation that emanates from the surface of a planet. Other greenhouse gases include Nitrous oxide, HFC’s, SF6 and CFC’s but will not be covered in depth in this unit.

A tropical cyclone with winds in excess of 64 knots (74 mph).

An organic chemical compound consisting only of carbon and hydrogen atoms in the gaseous, liquid or solid phase. (Greek hydor, water + Latin, carbo, charcoal).

The area in which water exists; for the purpose of this module, this sphere includes all liquid water on Earth, such as rivers, lakes and oceans, all frozen waters such as glaciers, icebergs, and polar icecaps, and all water vapor.

A supposition or idea about something. In the scientific realm, it generally relates to physical or chemical interactions among various entities of nature.

Ice age
A period of extensive glaciations over large portions of earth's continents accompanied by reduced global temperature and changes in atmospheric circulation.

An immediate underlying concern applied to a specific situation or issue that usually reflects a person's personal interest or motivation. Competing interests result from a difference in perspective and motivation.

Isostatic Sea Level Change
Changes in sea level caused by the rising or falling of various portions of the earth's crust.

An odorless, colorless, flammable gas, CH4, the major constituent of natural gas, that is used as a fuel and is an important source of hydrogen and a wide variety of organic compounds.

To act in such a way as to cause an offense to seem less serious. Related to climate change, mitigation refers to actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions at their source or actions that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Particulate matter
Small particles of matter such as dust and soot that are suspended in the air.

Parts per million (ppm)
Unit of measure most often used to describe the amount of a particular gas or compound in the air or water; it is the proportion of the number of molecules of the gas or compound out of a million (1,000,000,000) molecules of air or water.

The process by which plants use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce their food.

Planetary degassing
Any process that results in the escape of volatile substances from the crust of a planet. An example is the release of CO2 to earth's atmosphere via volcanoes.

Plate tectonics
A theory explaining the present and past locations of continents due to massive movement of the Earth’s crust.

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Preferred Action
What the stakeholder thinks should be done about the specific issue; what action, if any, the stakeholder says should be taken.

The movement of liquid or solid water (rain, sleet, snow, etc.) from the atmosphere to the Earth's surface; precipitate (verb).

Precipitation Efficiency
The efficiency with which atmospheric moisture is converted to precipitation, often described as the ratio of precipitation to total available moisture.

Proxy data
Data obtained from objects that are sensitive to climatic phenomena. Some examples are tree ring widths, ice cores, pollen deposits, glacier lengths and deep sea sediments. Analyses of such data can be used to provide estimates of past climate conditions, such as temperature, precipitation, or wind speed.

Shade-intolerant species
Plants that typically grow in places that receive lots of direct sunlight. They generally have high relative growth rates, highly-regulated stomata and thin leaves.

Shade-tolerant species
Plants that typically grow in places that receive less than full sunlight, such as the lower levels of a forest. They generally have low relative growth rates, open stomata and thick densely-packed leaves.

Those individuals, groups, organizations and/or institutions that have a role in the problem and/or its solution and a stake in the outcome.

Having to do with elevation or "lay of the land," i.e., surface features.

Urban heat island
A region of warmer air temperature (relative to the surrounding countryside) in a metropolitan area. Urban heat islands have been documented to exist in cities with as few as a thousand inhabitants.

Those processes collectively that result in the formation of volcanoes and their products.

Short-term (daily) changes in temperature, wind, and/or precipitation in a region

Definitions modified from and

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Tuesday June 12th, 1879.
I set off early the morning of August 30 before any one else in camp had stirred. Over the icy levels and over the woods, on the mountains, over the jagged rocks and spires and chasms of the glacier it boomed and moaned and roared, filling the fiord in even, gray, structureless gloom, inspiring and awful. I first struggled up in the face of the blast to the east end of the ice-wall, where a patch of forest had been carried away by the glacier when it was advancing. After thus tracing the margin of the glacier for three or four miles, I chopped steps and climbed to the top, and as far as the eye could reach, the nearly level glacier stretched indefinitely away in the gray cloudy sky, a prairie of ice.

On reaching the farther shore and tracing it a few miles to northward, I found a large portion of the glacier-current sweeping out westward in a bold and beautiful curve around the shoulder of a mountain as if going direct to the open sea. Leaving the main trunk, it breaks into a magnificent uproar of pinnacles and spires and up-heaving, splashing wave-shaped masses, a crystal cataract incomparably greater and wilder than a score of Niagaras.
John Muir

Global Temperatures

Courtesy of Wikipedia


Muir Glacier 1899 Muir Glacier 2003

Courtesy of NASA



Argentina's Upsala Glacier

Argentinia's Upsala Glacier, courtesy of


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