Monday, 23 January 2012
Climate C.H.A.N.G.E.: Concepts Having Anthropogenic & Natural Global Evidence - You Decide
Hall E (New Orleans Convention Center )
Recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change findings have raised public awareness of long term studies of temperature at the surface and in the troposphere, where conventional weather reside. The middle and upper atmosphere surrounding Earth also contain their own climate and weather patterns which are far less generally known. New and exciting findings in the geospace science community have highlighted strong and previously unsuspected connections between the lower and upper atmosphere, many of which cause dramatic and unexpected effects. Many high school science programs do not focus on Earth science, and in particular do not cover atmospheric science at levels other than tropospheric weather. As a means of addressing this, we describe a classroom science at levels other than tropospheric weather. As a means of addressing this, we describe a classroom unit developed as part of the NSF Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program at MIT Haystack Observatory in the summer of 2011. The opportunity to study the upper atmosphere provides a rare opportunity in the classroom. Students have an authentic experience of asking questions whose answers cannot be easily found on the Web, and indeed are subjects of active scientific research. This unit begins with a series of activities and lessons designed to provide background information about how Earth's atmosphere responds to environmental changes in ways which differ markedly depending on the location, altitude, and time period of observation. Our teaching unit takes advantage of cutting edge research on the upper atmosphere done at MIT Haystack Observatory, which operates one of a small number of powerful ground based ionospheric radars making direct observations of the upper atmosphere. The unit develops an exploration into understanding and analyzing data with a critical eye. Our teaching unit concludes with a discerning look at climate change in the lower and upper atmosphere, and the connection between the two. Given the current concern for the state of Earth's changing climate in the lower atmosphere, this unit provides a unique opportunity that introduces students to the timely and active field of climate and atmospheric science research, and in particular to highlight the fact that weather exists at all altitudes, not just the ones where humans live. Additionally, the public often is confused about fundamental concepts such as the difference between climate (e.g. long term shifts in mean temperature) and weather (e.g. increases in the strength of deviations from the mean). These distinctions are essential to becoming an informed citizen and participant in future societal decisions.