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Student Climate Change Research: Challenges and Opportunities


Student Climate Change Research: Challenges and Opportunities David R. Brooks, PhD President, Institute for Earth Science Research and Education – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Student Climate Change Research: Challenges and Opportunities

Student Climate Change Research Challenges and
  • David R. Brooks, PhD
  • President, Institute for Earth Science Research
    and Education
  • Thailand workshops,
  • January, 2009

  • Climate change is one of the most important
    science and public policy challenges for the 21st
  • Today's students will, as adults, inhabit a world
    that may be much different from the present
  • Can students and teachers promote understanding
    of climate change science?
  • Can students and teachers contribute to climate

What is Climate?
  • Climate is not the same as weather, which
    includes short-term fluctuations due to seasons
    and movements of air masses, for example.
  • Climate can refer just to regions or the entire
  • ? average meteorological conditions in a
  • particular place (30-year averages)
  • ? global conditions (over 1000s of years and
  • longer)
  • Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you
    get. (science fiction author Robert Heinlein)

What is Global Climate Change?
  • Global climate change means that average
    conditions on Earth are changing. In general,
    these changes have been associated with global
  • Regional climate changes are already known to be
    occurring (e.g., melting of the Arctic ice cap
    and the retreat of glaciers). These changes are
    occurring rapidly by historical standards and, in
    some cases, more rapidly than scientists
  • Most Earth scientists agree that although future
    ice ages eventually will occur, currently the
    entire planet is getting warmer more quickly than
    in the past, and this will cause dramatic global
    disruptions unless it can be controlled.
  • Over the last decade or so, some evidence
    suggests that global warming has temporarily

Thailand's Climate
(Describing a regional climate) Thailand has a
tropical climate with high temperatures and high
relative humidity. It is dominated by the monsoon
cycle. April and May are the hottest months. June
brings the start of the monsoon season, a rainy
period that lasts through October. Temperatures
are somewhat cooler in November through February,
with lower humidity and northeast breezes. The
north and northeast are generally cooler than
Bangkok between November and February, and hotter
in summer. Temperatures in Thailand never fall
below freezing (0C).
Temperature and Precipitation Trends in Thailand,
http// content/internation
al/press/reports/ crisis-or-opportunity-climate.pd
f (from Thailand Meteorological Office)
Global Climate
Temperature inferred from O18/O16 ratios. CO2
measured in trapped air bubbles. CO2 and
temperature are positively correlated, but which
is the cause and which is the effect? Most
climate scientists believe that increasing levels
of CO2 are now causing global temperatures to
rise (the greenhouse effect).
(Data from Russian Vostok Station ice cores, east
Antarctica, a joint Russian, U.S., and French
Global Climate Since the Last Ice Age
(Data from ice and sediment cores around the
Recent History
(Since start of Industrial Revolution.)
Possible Effects of Climate Change in Southeast
  • Sea levels may rise. Bangkok and its surroundings
    are within 1 m of present sea level. Valuable
    coastal farmland will be lost. Disappearance of
    beaches will hurt tourism.
  • There may be reduced rice production due to loss
    of land, higher temperatures, and changing
    rainfall patterns.
  • There will be consequences if farmers and
    fishermen cannot adapt to changing conditions.
    Spontaneous migration of large populations could
    be financially disruptive and create more serious
    social and environmental problems.
  • Higher temperatures demand more air conditioning,
    which increases greenhouse gases and contributes
    to the urban heat island effect.

What Can We Do About Climate Change?
  • Quantify indicators of climate change.
  • Attempt to understand what kinds of human
    activities are contributing to climate change.
  • Make responsible personal and community choices
    about how we use energy.
  • Hold our governments responsible for investing in
    and implementing policies that protect the
    environment and move beyond an economy based on
    fossil fuels.

The First Big Question
Can students contribute to climate change
My answer Yes, but it is not easy!
The Second Big Question
Should students contribute to climate change
My answer Yes, because hands-on research is an
essential part of the science process. But, does
research need to be an essential part of the
science education process? Countries, schools,
teachers, and students must decide for themselves.
Studying Global Climate
  • Satellite measurements play a major role in
    understanding global climate (and weather).
  • However, ground-based measurements are still very
    important for understanding how to interpret
    space-based measurements.
  • Can students collect data locally that contribute
    to understanding global climate?
  • How can teachers help their students relate their
    local weather and climate to the global big

How Do We Do It?
  • Understand the problems and ask the right
  • Form partnerships among scientists, teachers, and
    students, and their institutions.
  • Make long-term institutional commitments that do
    not depend just on individuals.
  • Make the equipment investments required to
    produce high-quality data. (Sometimes these
    investments can be small!)
  • Follow international standards for data
  • Use automated data collection whenever
  • Make a commitment to long-term data quality.
  • Focus on local measurements that are related to
    climate change.

What Can We Measure?
In this presentation, we will consider
  • The sun
  • Earths atmosphere
  • Earths surface

Bringing the Sun Down to Earth
Weather and climate are controlled by the suns
interaction with Earths surface and atmosphere.
This is a basic topic for Earth science
education. There are many measurements students
can make to improve understanding of these
Organizing Climate-Related Measurements
Relating the Local to the Global
Local Student Activity Regional/Global Measurement
air temperature climate warming or cooling
surface temperature radiative balance
soil temperature radiative balance, land use changes
surface reflectivity albedo (reflectivity)
aerosols and water vapor transport of pollutants, changing cloud patterns, land use changes, biomass burning
precipitation regional climate changes
sky photography, solar aureole changes in air quality
solar radiation (pyranometry) changes in air quality, cloud patterns, radiative balance, site analysis for solar applications
Some Things Students and Teachers Can Do
  • Photographing the solar aureole and the sky
  • Radiometry recording total insolation and UV
  • Sun photometry recording changes in aerosol
    optical depth and water vapor
  • Reflectivity monitoring changes in surface
    reflectance (albedo)
  • Air and soil temperatures monitoring long-term
    changes in soil temperature (related to soil

The Sun
  • Our sun is an average star.
  • It generates a power E of about E3.91026 W,
    radiated uniformly in all directions.
  • The intensity of radiation decreases as the
    inverse square of the distance from the sun.
  • The solar constant is defined as the average
    power per unit area of solar radiation at Earths
    average distance from the sun, R
  • So E/(4p R2) 1370 W/m2
  • The amount of energy Earth receives depends on
    the time of year. It varies from
  • Smax So/(1 - e)2 So/(0.983)2 1417 W/m2 in
  • Smin So/(1 e)2 So/(1.017)2 1324 W/m2 in

Observing The Sun
  • Most measurements of the sun lie beyond the
    capabilities and resources of students.
  • However, a solarscope can be used to observe
    sunspots and measure the suns rotation.

Sunspots viewed through haze from forest fires
in southern California, late 2003 (NASA)
The Atmosphere
  • The atmosphere is a very thin layer of gases
    (lt100 km) that make the difference between a
    habitable planet and one that would not support
    advanced life as we understand it.
  • The atmosphere and its constituents reflect,
    scatter, and absorb sunlight.

Table 2.2. Composition of pure dry air near
Earths surface.
Gas Percent by volume(dry air) Cumulative percentby volume
N2 78.08 78.08
O2 20.95 99.03
Ar 0.934 99.964
Other trace gases 0.036 100.000
Trace Gases in the Atmosphere
Table 2.3. Trace gases in the atmosphere.
Component Approximate percent by volume and parts per million (ppm)
Water vapor (H2O) 0 4
Carbon dioxide (CO2) 0.037 (370 ppm)
Methane (CH4) 0.00017 (1.7 ppm)
Nitrous oxide (N2O) 0.00003 (0.3 ppm)
Ozone (O3) 0.000004 (0.04 ppm)
Aerosols (liquid qne solid particles) 0.000001-0.000015 (0.01-0.15 ppm)
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) 0.00000002 (0.0002 ppm)
The Greenhouse Effect
  • Some scientists define a habitable zone around
    a star as the range of distances over which water
    can exist naturally as a liquid. Does Earth fall
    within this zone?
  • The Earth/atmosphere system must be in radiative
  • So, Earth lies outside the habitable zone!

incident energy (pr2)So absorbed energy
(pr2)So(1 A) emitted energy (4pr2)sT4
Emitted energy must equal absorbed energy, on
average (pr2)So(1 A) (4pr2)sT4 or So(1
A) 4sT4 Solve for T, using A0.3 (average
global albedo) T So(1 A)/(4s)(1/4)
1370(1 0.3)/(45.6710-8)(1/4) 255 K
The Greenhouse Effect
  • How can Earth support advanced life if it lies
    outside the habitable zone?
  • Earths actual average surface temperature is
    about 16C. This is made possible by trace gases
    (greenhouse gases), including water vapor, in
    the atmosphere
  • So(1 - A) 4sT4(1 x)
  • where x is a greenhouse parameter. For Earth,
    a value of about 0.4 produces an equilibrium
    temperature of about 16C.

Observing The Atmosphere
  • Some properties of the atmosphere can be observed
  • ? clouds (type and coverage)
  • ? visibility (haziness)
  • ? solar aureole (with a camera only!)
  • Other properties can be measured indirectly from
    Earths surface
  • ? aerosols
  • ? water vapor

Sky Photography
  • The aureole is the circular region of
    light-colored sky around the sun. It is caused by
    scattering from dust and other aerosols in the
    atmosphere. A very clear sky produces a small
    aureole, and a very dirty sky can produce a
    very large aureole.
  • Digital photographs of the sun can be analyzed to
    determine the size of the aureole, which can be
    related to atmospheric conditions, including
  • Photos of the sky, pointing away from the sun,
    can also be related to air pollution and aerosols.

Sky Looking North at Solar Noon
Twilight Glow from Polluted Sky
Photographing the Solar Aureole
Do NOT look through an optical viewfinder!! Direct
sun photos may damage a digital camera.
Canon PowerShot A530, F5.6 _at_ 1/1600 s. Use the
same F-stop and shutter speed for every
ImageJ software, available as a free download
From http//
How Does Sky PhotographyBecome Climate Science?
  • Always use the same camera one with manual
    settings for focus, exposure time, and f-stop.
  • Use the same f-stop and exposure settings, and
    focus at infinity. (Do not use automatic
  • Use the highest resolution that your camera
  • Always photograph the same scene, and include a
    little land or water below the horizon, to track
    seasonal changes on the ground.
  • Photograph the scene at the same time of day, for
    example, sunset or solar noon.
  • Do not apply digital enhancements or resize or
    compress the image.
  • Collect images regularly over long periods of
  • Keep careful records about scenes, dates, times,
    and camera settings, including your latitude,
    longitude, and elevation.

Earths Surface
  • There are two basic areas of interest
  • ? weather
  • ? climate
  • Weather is easy to measure, but climate is not!
  • Weather measurements can be made over short
    periods of time. Climate must be measured over
    very long periods of time.
  • Climate measurements require a long-term
    institutional commitment.

Measurements at Earths Surface
  • Basic meteorological measurements (air
    temperature, wind, precipitation, relative
  • Solar radiation
  • Soil/water temperature
  • Surface temperature
  • and reflectivity

Measuring Air Temperature
  • The international standard is a Stevenson
  • The GLOBE thermometer shelter is smaller. Are
    temperatures different? I dont know.

Stevenson screen
GLOBE shelter
80 x 61 x 59 cm
50 x 28 x 20 cm
Air and Soil Temperature in Pennsylvania
Does Anybody Need More Temperature Measurements?
  • Yes! There are hardly any long-term simultaneous
    records of air temperature and soil temperature.
  • These data are important for agriculture and pest
  • Changes in soil temperature can be indicators of
    climate change (for example, melting permafrost).
  • The relationship between soil and air temperature
    depends on soil moisture, another indicator of
    climate change (in tropical climates?).

Measuring InsolationStudent Pyranometer Data
Site Evaluation for Solar Power
1-minute values of insolation
integrated over 24 hours.
Cloud Climatologies in Texas
1-hr means and standard deviations of 1-min
Broadband and Near-IR Reflectivity
UV Radiometry
Smoke in the atmosphere reduces UV radiation
reaching Earths surface. This can disrupt
ecosystems and may be associated with bird flu.
UV-A radiation can be monitored with a
relatively inexpensive (150) radiometer. It
uses a blue LED that responds to radiation with
a strong peak around 372 nm. Mims, Forrest
M. III. Avian Influenza and UV-B Blocked by
Biomass Smoke. Environmental Health
Perspectives, 113, 12, 806-807, December 2005.
Measuring Aerosols
  • Sun photometers can be used to monitor absorption
    and scattering of sunlight by particles in the
    atmosphere (aerosols), by measuring the aerosol
    optical thickness.
  • The effects of aerosols are one of the larger
    uncertainties in computer models used to predict
    future climate.
  • The sun photometer shown here uses LEDs to
    measure aerosol optical thickness at green and
    red wavelengths.
  • Hundreds of these instruments have been used
    around the world, with student data included in
    papers published in peer-reviewed science

Aerosols in Rural Arkansas
Aerosols in Puerto Rico
Water Vapor in Puerto Rico
  • I have briefly described some ways that
    scientists, teachers, and students can work
    together to understand Earths climate. Other
    scientists will have other ideas.
  • Students CAN make significant contributions to
    climate science research, because predictions of
    future climate depend on having many sources of
    reliable long-term data.
  • The stable physical environment around schools
    provides major advantages for this kind of
  • Climate change research must be conducted over
    the long term years, rather than months.
  • School-based student research must be chosen
    carefully and conducted in collaboration with
  • School administrators and the education
    establishment must be willing and able to provide
    long-term institutional support, including
    science support that goes beyond what is required
    just to meet educational objectives.

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss
student/teacher roles in understanding and
measuring climate change.I hope there are many
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