Module/Unit: Earth's Atmosphere
In this lesson, students learn how atmospheric composition and circulation impact the generation of storms. Students examine the primary and variable gases that compose in the atmosphere. A fine balance exists between the gases in the earth's atmosphere; the past two centuries of human industrial activity have gradually altered the composition of variable gases (especially carbon dioxide). Additionally, students investigate the forces that lead to the circulation of the atmosphere. Particular attention will be paid to the Coriolis force and its effect on storms. Lastly, students explore storms; what leads to favorable atmospheric conditions for the hurricane formation.
Students will learn the following:
- To think critically about the role(s) gases play in our climate
- To analyze the forces at work in the circulation of the earth's atmosphere
- To determine the conditions necessary for storm formation
- To synthesize data related to the earth's atmosphere and apply it to theories regarding human influence on weather (storm) patterns
Context for Use
The class size should not exceed twenty-five. A flexible course structure requiring minimal equipment (laboratory setting not required) allows for the course to be taught at a university, college, museum, or adult learning center. However, multimedia capability (smart board or access to AV) is necessary for the Coriolis force and hurricane simulation exercises. A classroom without movable desks would be best to facilitate the Socratic nature of the lesson. Once students develop a baseline of composition and circulation knowledge, the instructor becomes more of a facilitator, permitting students to work in groups of four or five; the instructor will rotate students as discussion leaders - each group taking turns directing the class dialogue by researching and composing questions. The module requires three one hour or two one and a half our class sessions or a single three-hour class. Students aren't required to have a background in climatology or to have mastered any particular environmental science concepts prior to the lesson.
Description and Teaching Materials
The structure of the module (in terms of its three components: composition, circulation, and storms) and much of the source material derives from Columbia University's EESC Earth's Environmental Systems: Climate Course (Fall 2007). The facilitator can utilize a PowerPoint presentation to convey the lesson (supported by student composed questions). The initial slides lay the basic groundwork for future discussion by outlining the composition of the earth's atmosphere (four to five slides). The presentation then segues into a description of the forces that drive atmospheric circulation (paying special attention to the roles convection, pressure gradients, and Coriolis force play).
The lab component involves students taking part in a Coriolis force activity. The activity will involve a brief Quicktime movie (the Coriolis effect on the merry go-round) and an online simulation (courtesy of the University of Illinois). The circulation and forces portion will require seven to ten slides. The facilitator led and student driven discussion then connects circulation to storm generation.
Slides describe storms, focusing on favorable conditions for storms. Students engage in a hurricane simulation activity courtesy of the National Geographic to test their knowledge. The final slides ask students to think critically about the role human influence has had on climate (storm formation). Students discuss whether or not climate change has led to an increase in severe storms (looking at recent storms such as Katrina as possible case studies).
Below are the links for source material and resources:
· Indiana University's Geography 109 Course and Encyclopedia of Earth (http://www.eoearth.org/article/atmospheric_composition): secondary sources for information related to atmospheric composition
· University of Illinois's Forces and Winds course online meteorological guide (http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/fw/home.rxml) and Severe Storm and Hazardous weather (http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/svr/home.rxml): secondary source for atmospheric forces and the Coriolis simulator
· National Geographic (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/forces-of-nature/): hurricane simulator
Module > Earth's Atmosphere - Module covering Earth's atmosphere (composition and circulation patterns) and storm formation.
Teaching Notes and Tips
The lab requires some preparatory work, but not at an advanced level. Instructors/facilitators should familiarize themselves with the connections being drawn between each of the lesson's three components. The component on circulation/force will require the most preparation. For example: conceptually, pressure gradients make a lot of sense, but their practical application (i.e. how they operate in the natural world) will require a greater level of explanation for students with limited environmental systems backgrounds.
Develop a class work and participation rubric to measure whether or not students achieved the learning goals; additionally, a one to two page response paper on how humans have influenced (or not) the generation of severe storms by applying what they learned about the atmosphere's composition and forces could be used as an assessment tool.
References and Resources
Below are the links for source material and resources:
- Columbia University's EESC Earth's Environmental Systems: Climate (http://eesc.columbia.edu/courses/ees/climate/index.html): Atmosphere convection, atmospheric forces, general circulation and climate zones, and climatological structure of the atmosphere information
- Indiana University's Geography 109 Course and Encyclopedia of Earth (http://www.eoearth.org/article/atmospheric_composition): secondary sources for information related to atmospheric composition
- University of Illinois's Forces and Winds course online meteorological guide (http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/fw/home.rxml) and Severe Storm and Hazardous weather (http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/svr/home.rxml) : secondary source for atmospheric forces and the Coriolis simulator
- National Geographic (http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/forces-of-nature/): hurricane simulator
Callahan, P. (2012). Module/Unit: Earth's Atmosphere a