Natural Processes and Climate Change

Activities

El Niño and Global Warming

Climate can be affected by many factors. On the west coast of South America in Peru, many Peruvians depend upon the fishing industry. Fishermen find a wealth of fish in the cool nutrient-rich Pacific waters. Occasionally, these same nutrient-rich waters warm up, and the fish disappear. When this has happened, the fishermen would be temporarily out of work, but this warming does not last, and then the waters would return to normal with abundant schools of fish. This ocean warming phenomenon would often occur near Christmas, so the fishermen started referring to these warming events as El Niño. In Spanish, El Niño is short for “El Niño Jesus” meaning “the child Jesus.” Scientists have continued to use the term El Niño for this change in ocean temperature. El Niño has been part of life for Peruvian fisherman for hundreds of years, but the global atmospheric affects of El Niño events have only recently come to the attention of atmospheric scientists. In the past twenty years, the “no fish” periods off the coast of Peru began to last longer, causing a serious disruption in the fishing industry of Peru. Scientists began to take note of this problem, and since then research seems to be indicating that a correlation seems to exist between El Niño events and global warming. Scientists began to wonder whether the El Niño events were the cause of global warming, or, whether global warming was the cause of the longer El Niño events. In the following activity you will explore the data and have a chance to consider the nature and the effects of El Niño events.

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Volcanoes and Global Warming

Are volcanoes a source of atmospheric carbon dioxide? This question is a point of controversy concerning the greenhouse effect and its potential impact on global warming. In this activity you will learn how volcanic eruptions contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse effect, as well as global temperatures. Initially, when a volcano erupts, it ejects many different types of material into the air including a variety of gasses and ash (small particles of dust). Among these gasses ejected into the atmosphere are gasses such as water vapor and carbon dioxide. Both of these gasses are greenhouse gasses and can contribute to the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been increasing—now scientists are studying whether volcanoes are playing a significant role in the greenhouse effect.

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Milankovitch Cycles Case Study

Global warming and climate change are international concerns and the sources of much controversy. Many variables, however, can contribute to the temperature changes related to global warming. All of these variables must be considered when investigating this issue. Strong evidence shows an accelerated rise in global temperatures over the past 30 years. In the media much attention is given to the fact that concentrations of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is rising. The central cause of this increase is being blamed on human activity; specifically the burning of fossil fuels. The increase in carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is the most-discussed factor in the global warming controversy. Other factors exist, however, that could be contributing to the increase in the earth’s atmospheric temperatures. Natural cycles occurring between the Sun and the Earth play important roles in the heat budget of the Earth’s atmosphere. In this case study you will investigate cycles that scientists often consider when discussing global warming and climate change issues. The Milankovitch Cycles cause changes in the earth’s orbit and orientation that occur over time.

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Sunspot Activity Case Study

Global warming and climate change are international concerns and the sources of much controversy. Many variables, however, can contribute to the temperature changes related to global warming. All of these variables must be considered when investigating this issue. Strong evidence shows an accelerated rise in global temperatures over the past 30 years. In the media much attention is given to the fact that concentrations of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is rising. The central cause of this increase is being blamed on human activity; specifically the burning of fossil fuels. The increase in carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere is the most-discussed factor in the global warming controversy. Other factors exist, however, that could be contributing to the increase in the Earth’s atmospheric temperatures. Energy from the Sun produces the heating that occurs on the Earth. The energy coming from the Sun is not always the same. The amount of energy that the Sun emits is related to the number of sunspots present on the surface of the Sun. The sunspot cycle, causes increases and decreases in the radiation from the Sun to the Earth.

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This work was supported by the National Science Foundation through the Geoscience Education program under grant number GEO-0606922. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

 

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