Activity 2A: Focus

Polar Bears Walking on Broken Sea Ice in Svalbard

Photo: Kt Miller / Polar Bears International

Climate Change Basics

Step One

To learn about climate and what causes it to change, read what the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research has to say by visiting their website.  Click on the words below for each answer.

What is climate?

What causes it to change?

These resources are found on the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research website.  

UCAR and NCAR provide leading resources on atmospheric and sea ice studies.

Step Two

Complete the Global Temperature quiz from NASA as a warm up.

Then watch the video Climate 101 with Bill Nye.

Step Three

Read more about the greenhouse effect HERE, and read below on how humans are changing the carbon cycle.

What's causing global warming?

When we burn fossil fuels like coal, and oil, and natural gas for things like heating/cooling our homes or driving our cars, we pump more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This causes a blanket-like effect, thus trapping heat around the world that would have otherwise escaped back into space. The trapped heat causes the planet to warm and disrupts the atmospheric balance that otherwise keeps the climate stable.

The carbon cycle is the flow of carbon through our environment. Carbon cycles through terrestrial and marine ecosystems naturally. You might of heard of carbon dioxide as something we breathe out and plants breathe in. We call this regular carbon dioxide. But there is another source of carbon dioxide, which we call rampant CO2. This comes from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas for energy. The burning of fossil fuels is adding carbon to the atmosphere that typically wouldn't be added. There is too much of it and it is getting out of control. We are emitting so much rampant carbon dioxide that we are thickening that heat trapping blanket (the metaphor mentioned above), warming the planet at extreme rates, and intensifying the effects of a disrupted climate. 

Global Temperature and CO2 Levels 

According to an ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8°Celsius (1.4°Fahrenheit) since 1880 (1). Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.15-0.20°C per decade. Take a look at the graphs below, from, a website that has numerous climate graphic resources for you to use. These graphs side by side demonstrate the connection between an increase in CO2 and an increase in global temperatures. It also provides a look at CO2 in our atmosphere in the past 400,000 years and how we are well beyond the natural cycle.

(1) "Basics." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2014.


Take a look at the graphic by NOAA and visit their website for more information on temperature anomalies.



Continue on to Activity 2B – Explore.