Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change

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1 Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change Peter Mahaffy, Brian Martin & Anna Schwalfenberg,* The King s Centre for Visualization in Science, The King s University College, Edmonton, AB Canada T6B 2H3 Contact: *The complete list of IUPAC/UNESCO project participants and contributors to the development of visualizations is given at the end of this paper. Understanding and responding to global climate change is one of the defining challenges of the 21 st century. Barraged by contradictory messages, many don t have the right tools to see and understand the complex connections between human activity and our changing climate. This IUPAC/UNESCO project was created as an International Year of Chemistry legacy to highlight connections between chemistry and sustainability. It brings together scientists and educators from the IUPAC Committee on Chemistry Education, The King s Centre for Visualization in Science (KCVS, Canada), The Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), American Chemical Society (USA), UNESCO, and the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry to develop a set of 9 critically reviewed, interactive modules, web-based materials for global dissemination to help students visualize and understand the underlying science of climate change. Target audiences are (a) teachers at the secondary and first year tertiary levels, (b) students at those same levels, and (c) chemistry professionals. Visualizations emphasize the fundamental science of climate processes, and make overt connections to chemistry curriculum. The first 8 modules were launched during the International Year of Chemistry, and the final lesson focusing on where we go from here will go live by July The Lessons Each lesson contains interactive visualizations that allow students to investigate actual climate data or develop a conceptual understanding of the scientific principles and processes underlying climate change. Throughout the lessons students are asked to critically engage with the material through worked examples and assessment items.

2 To prime the discussion of climate change science Lesson 1 - Introduction to Earth s Climate clarifies the concept of climate (as opposed to weather), examines the factors that make earth s climate unique and introduces the idea of differences in climate occurring over time. Lesson 2 - Is Climate Change Happening? delves further into earth s historical climate record, showing how data collected from ice core samples is analyzed to provide an understanding of ancient temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations. Attention is drawn to the correlation between greenhouse gas concentrations and global average temperature. In Lesson 3 - Heating it Up: The Chemistry of the Greenhouse Effect, the atmospheric chemistry of greenhouse gases is explained. The conceptual foundation necessary to understand collisional heating is established through a molecular level discussion of temperature, properties of gases and their interaction with electromagnetic radiation. Earth s radiation balance is examined in Lesson 4 - Climate: A Balancing Act, placing the absorption of infrared radiation by greenhouse gases in the context of other factors that affect incoming and outgoing radiation, including aerosols and earth s albedo. Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture Lesson 5 Global Issues: The Impact of Climate Change consists of five engaging case studies that showcase the current and future effects of climate change on polar regions, coral reefs, vector borne disease, extreme weather and biodiversity.

3 Lesson 6 Greenhouse Gases: A Closer Look introduces the major greenhouse gases present in our atmosphere: water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and CFCs. Natural and anthropogenic sources of the gases are examined and their global warming potentials are explained. In Lesson 7 Climate Feedback Loops the concepts of positive and negative feedback loops are introduced and used to explain the various feedback loops that are an integral part of earth s climate system. Feedback cycles that affect atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane are discussed. Lesson 8 Climate Change and the Oceans investigates the role of the world s oceans in regulating climate and the effect that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations are having on ocean ph and the resultant implications for carbon speciation in the ocean ecosystem (see example below). Lesson 9 What Now? Mitigation of Climate Change will go live in July It will consist of an overview of potential strategies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change and will facilitate a discussion of how we should respond, individually and collectively, to the challenges posed by climate change.

4 Example of Interactive Visualization A significant portion of human-generated carbon dioxide is finding its way into the world s oceans where it affects the balance of carbon species in the ocean as outlined in the following equilibria: This alteration of ocean chemistry is subtle, but has significant ramifications for ocean biodiversity. As CO 2 is absorbed into the ocean increased production of carbonic acid (H 2 CO 3 ) is accompanied by an increase in acidity and decrease in ph of the oceans. In turn, this causes a shift in the speciation of carbon, leading to lower carbonate (CO 3 2- ) ion concentrations. Marine organisms such as corals and molluscs require carbonate to form their shells, and the aquatic food chain is sensitive to carbon speciation. The decrease in ocean ph and changes in carbon speciation have important implications for the ability of certain sea creatures to form solid shells. However, by simply looking at the set of equilibrium involved in regulating ocean ph the net result of changing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations on the levels of the other carbon species in the oceans is not readily apparent. An interactive visualization, shown in figure 3, was developed in order to clarify the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, ocean acidification and carbon speciation. Students are able to manipulate atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by moving a slider located at the bottom left of the visualization and observe the resulting effects on ocean ph and carbon speciation.

5 Figure 1. An interactive visualization that allows exploration of the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, ocean ph and carbon speciation in the oceans. This visualization is incorporated into Lesson 8 Climate Change and the Oceans. Other interactive simulations and data manipulation tools are integrated throughout the lessons on Current and Future Use Promotion of the resources will take place following the completion of Lesson 9. Despite little advertising, there are already about 1500 unique visits per month from over 70 countries. During the virtual conference we invite discussion about the sustainability legacy of IYC, the explainingclimatechange.com resource, and welcome ideas for promoting broad dissemination to educators, students, and the public, and integrating climate science into chemistry curriculum.

6 IUPAC/UNESCO Project Team Members IUPAC Project # Peter Mahaffy (Project Chair, IUPAC CCE) Mei-Hung Chiu (IUPAC CCE) Alison Eldridge (RSC) Temechegn Engida (FASC) Julia Hasler (UNESCO) Mary Kirchhoff (ACS) Brian Martin (KCVS) Colin Osborne (RSC) Natalia Tarasova (IUPAC CCE) Lorna Thomson (RSC) King s Centre for Visualization in Science Project Team Brian Martin (co-director) Peter Mahaffy (co-director) Denyse Dawe Benjamin Dodds-Scott David Dykstra Darren Eymundson Katrina Genuis James Gilker Naomi Mahaffy Matt Price Anna Schwalfenberg Amanda Thompson Kristen Tjostheim Darrell VandenBrink Amanda Vanderhoek

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