44 Introduction

Module 15

Climate Change

streams of ice melt running through ice sheets
Figure 1. Melt streams on the Greenland Ice Sheet on July 19, 2015. Ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets as well as alpine glaciers has accelerated in recent decades.


Climate is an average of the long-term weather patterns across a geographic area, which is a complicated metric controlled by factors within the lithosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and anthrosphere (the part of the environment that is influenced and modified mainly by human activity— sometimes also called the technosphere), as well as factors beyond our own planet. It is helpful to separate out humans from other life (anthrosphere verses biosphere) for several reasons, primarily because many of our activities are unique (industrialization, for instance) and it is helpful in understanding our role in climate change. Therefore, the science examining past, current, and future climate is extremely complex and interdisciplinary.

You may not think of climate as a geological field of study, but the history of climate is recorded within rocks, the current climate is altered by geologic events, and the future climate will be influenced by our use of geological resources such as fossil fuels. In addition to the complex nature of this subject, it is also one, if not the most, important scientific fields of study, both in terms of understanding the dynamics and implications of future climate change as well as attempting to combat or mitigate the potential effects.

Figure 2. In this photo you can see a collapsed block of ice-rich permafrost along Drew Point, Alaska. Coastal bluffs in this region can erode 20 meters/year (~65 feet). USGS scientists continually research the causes of major permafrost thaw and bluff retreat along the Arctic coast of Alaska. In addition, with the loss of sea ice to protect the beaches from ocean waves, salt water inundates the coastal habitats. You can learn more at: USGS Alaska Science Center: and USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

Though the basic science behind climate and climate change has been well studied to a point of near consensus within the scientific community, there is still significant debate among the broader population. This is likely related to many factors beyond science, including economics, politics, the portrayal of the science by the media, and the overall public’s scientific literacy. Gaining a better understanding of this issue is difficult given the enormous wealth of information and disparity in scientific literacy. This lab will explore this issue by examining climate data, as well as how we, as scientists or scientific-minded citizens, make interpretations and conclusions regarding data— how it is presented, and how it relates to our understanding of the world around us.

Module Objectives

At the completion of this module you will be able to:

  1. Summarize the properties of greenhouse gases and their role in controlling the climate.
  2. Explain the difference between climate forcing and climate feedbacks, and describe the mechanisms of climate forcing.
  3. Describe the significance of both albedo and permafrost melting to climate.
  4. Explain how extraction of fossil fuels and food production contribute to climate change.
  5. Describe the role of climate change in sea-level rise.
  6. Describe the link between climate change and the distribution of diseases and pests.
  7. Examine ways in which we as individuals can limit our personal contribution to climate change.

Activities Overview

See the Schedule of Work for dates of availability and due dates.

Be sure to read through the directions for all of this module’s activities before getting started so that you can plan your time accordingly. You are expected to work on this course throughout the week.


Physical Geology by Steven Earle

  • Chapter 19 (Climate Change)

Module 15 Assignment: Changes in Extent of Sea Ice at the Poles

10 points

After you complete the reading, you can start working on Module 15 Assignment – Changes in Extent of Sea Ice at the Poles

Module 15 Quiz

10 points

Module 15 Quiz has 10 multiple-choice questions and is based on the content of the Module 15 readings and Assignment 15.

The quiz is worth a total of 10 points (1 points per question). You will have only 10 minutes to complete the quiz, and you may take this quiz only once. Note: that is not enough time to look up the answers!

Make sure that you fully understand all of the concepts presented and study for this quiz as though it were going to be proctored in a classroom, or you will likely find yourself running out of time.

Keep track of the time, and be sure to look over your full quiz results after you have submitted it for a grade.

Exam 3: Final Exam

75 points

The questions in this exam are “deep-thinking” questions designed to cultivate critical thinking based on what you have learned in the course up to this point. Each question will be worth 25 points (25 points x 3 questions = 75 points total).

Exam 3 Instructions and Questions

You will submit the results from your project in the Assignments folder labeled “Exam 3” by the end of this week (Module 15).

Your Questions and Concerns…

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

General course questions: If your question is of a general nature such that other students would benefit from the answer, then go to the discussions area and post it as a question thread in the “General course questions” discussion area.

Personal questions: If your question is personal, (e.g. regarding my comments to you specifically), then send me an email from within this course.


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