Controversies in the Earth Sciences

Playing with a Simple Climate Model


The purpose of the following activity is to introduce you to an interesting and simple climate model that can be run fairly easily on a Web browser. The main thing I want you to do is to fiddle around with this model, try things, and see what happens. Pretty vague directions, huh?! But there's a catch. The deliverable for this activity will be that you come up with a short lesson based on using this model that you think would be appropriate for students. This will aid your thinking about your capstone project for this course.

Write Your Own Climate Lesson Using the JCM


  1. Go to the Java Climate Model.
    Follow their directions to launch the JCM. My personal preference is to download the zip file and run the program offline.
  2. Once you have launched the model, you are presented with an alarmingly busy page with a menu panel, a panel full of words, and four colored plots that don't all necessarily follow Eliza's Rules for Good Labelling. This is an example of a model created by scientists for scientists, perhaps that is their excuse. In any case, I will not try to explain everything you see here, especially since this model's Web designers did a pretty good job of it themselves. Follow my example below and then you are free to do what you want to for this assignment.
  3. My best advice: If you ever find yourself completely confused and want to start over again, just quit the model and restart it. Doing so will initialize the setup from the original starting point.
  4. Watch my JCM5 demo screencast to see me show you around the basics of this interactive model.
  5. Here are some things to remember: The default upon starting up the model is to present plots that assume a scenario in which the world has capped the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere at 450ppm by the year 2100. Pay attention to cause and effect in this model. For example, if, as in the default scenario, we cap CO2 concentration at 450ppm by 2100, then the sea level rise plot shows the effect of that, but the emissions plot shows what we'd have to do to stabilize at that concentration, and the temperature plot shows what the temperature rise relative to 1850 would be in that situation. In other words, CO2 concentration stabilization does not cause emissions reduction! It's the other way around! Sounds obvious but it can be confusing if you don't think it through and pay attention to which parameter you use to drive the model.
  6. Now it is up to you to play around with this model and come up with a lesson that explores a parameter (or more than one) that interests you. This is what I want you to do:
    • Find a parameter that interests you: emissions, sea level rise, temperature, a particular emissions scenario, a mitigation strategy, etc., and play around with this model to find some interesting data to plot and interpret.
    • Write down step-by-step instructions so that somebody else (like ME, because I will follow your instructions when I grade this!) could follow along the path you took and get the result you got.
    • Decide what you want to teach. (If you made a student go through this exercise, what would the take-home message be for them?)
    • Write down some follow-up questions for the mythical student so that the student would have to interpret the plot they made and think a little bit about the implications of the results they got. Be sure to include the answers to these questions! This will help me understand what level of thinking you expect from your intended audience.
    • Write a short paragraph that explains to me why you chose the parameter or scenario you did and what you hope will be the take-home message from your exercise.
  7. Save an electronic version of your activity as either a Microsoft Word, Macintosh Pages, or PDF file in the following format:

    L5_lessonplan_AccessAccountID_LastName.doc (or .pdf).

    For example, St Louis Cardinal third base coach and former "secret weapon" Jose Oquendo's file would be named "L5_lessonplan_jmo1_oquendo.doc" You can look it up: his given name is José Manuel Roberto Guillermo Oquendo Contreras.

Submitting your work

Upload your file to the Java Climate Model dropbox in CANVAS by the due date indicated on the first page of this lesson.

Grading rubric

I will use my general grading rubric for problem sets to grade this activity.