The Critical Zone

Regional Climate Issues


To learn more about regional climate issues, complete the following learning activity.

See our course calendar in Canvas for specific activity due dates.



  1. To get started, read the following Web sites. Feel free to browse any of the links you find interesting. Your goal should be to gain a basic understanding of the term "regional climate" from a climate scientist's perspective.
  2. With your newfound understanding of regional climate, you will now proceed to read two important reports, one by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the other by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), that discusses potential climate-change-related impacts on specific regions within the United States.


    You don't have to read the entire reports . . . we are going to do this part of the activity in five (5) teams. Team membership will be provided by the start of this lesson week.

    Here is how each team should proceed with the readings:

    1. Members of every team should read the Introduction to the Pew report (pages 1-7) and Chapter 1 in the UCS report (pages 1–9).
    2. Members of individual teams should then read the following:
      • Team 1: pp. 10–29 in the UCS report describing regional climate change in the Northeast
      • Team 2: pp. 8–21 in the Pew report on the Midwest
      • Team 3: pp. 22–41 in the Pew report on the West
      • Team 4: pp. 42–56 in the Pew report on the Gulf Coast
      • Team 5: pp. 57–67 in the Pew report on the Chesapeake Bay

    Submitting your work

    Upon completion of the reading, you are to engage in a discussion of the readings, first within your team and then with the rest of the class. The team discussion component of this activity will take place over two days and will require you to participate multiple times over that period. Likewise, the class discussion will then take place over the subsequent two days. See our course calendar in Canvas for specific dates.

    Team discussions

    1. Enter the special discussion forum created for your team in Canvas (e.g., "Lesson 5 - Regional Climate: Team 1 Discussion")
    2. You will see five postings already there, each containing one of the following questions:
      • What regional effects to the Critical Zone are described in your region?
      • Are there any regional characteristics that make your region more susceptible or resilient to climate change?
      • What role does the Critical Zone play in climate change in your region?
      • Are there any actions that can be taken to mitigate the regional effects?
      • How might reductions in our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions lessen the regional effects, if at all?
    3. Respond to one question that hasn't already been chosen by another student. If all questions have already been addressed, then select a question where you can further the discussion and post there.
    4. Return to the discussion periodically to read your teammates postings and to respond by asking for clarification, asking a follow-up question, expanding on what has already been said, etc.

    Class discussion

    Once you have discussed these topics within your team, we will regroup to engage in a discussion with the entire class. This class discussion will take place in a separate discussion forum in Canvas titled "Lesson 5 - Regional Climate: Class Discussion."

    1. Before joining the class discussion, skim the discussions that have taken place in ALL of the team discussion spaces in order to acquaint yourself with the other topics and issues.
    2. Next, enter the "Regional Climate - Class Discussion" forum and post a response to each of the following questions. Remember, if there are already postings there from other students, then respond by asking for clarification, asking a follow-up question, expanding on what has already been said, etc.
      • What will the net effect of climate change be on the nation’s Critical Zone?
      • Consider the previous list of questions from a carbon trading perspective. Imagine that a national cap on total carbon dioxide emissions has been established, but that consideration can be made for the total carbon budget of your region. That is, your region can be classified based on its carbon sources and sinks—if your region is designated as a net carbon sink, then your region can emit more carbon dioxide than a region that is identified as a source of carbon dioxide—or you trade or sell carbon credits to a region that is a net carbon source. Do you think your region is a net source or sink? How did you come to this conclusion? How will your region’s carbon budget be affected by climate change? Will the actions of other regions positively or negatively affect the carbon budget in your region? The Critical Zone?

    Grading criteria

    You will be graded on the quality of your participation. See the grading rubric for specifics on how this assignment will be graded.