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EarthLabs for Educators and Policy Makers

EarthLabs is a suite of investigative climate education resources, outlining climate science basics and then filling them in with colorful detail. It provides a collection of tools for educators to incorporate into their curricula, as well for policymakers to gain a foothold in their scientific, and specifically their climate science, education. The modular approach provides easy access to targeted information so that activities can be easily integrated into workshops. The available modules cover topics such as Hurricanes, Drought, Fisheries, Corals, and also modules which focus on the interconnectedness of the climate system with the earth, examining the cryosphere, biosphere, carbon cycle, and more!

With the goal of teaching climate literacy, the explicit understanding that studying a system requires more than learning about its parts in isolation provides the framework through which the site frames its modules. While each of the modules has its own objectives and themes, there are several crosscutting themes which overlap, namely the earth system, time scales and rates of change, spatial scales, and how we know what we know. Educators should be knowledgable about climate science basics, but if not, there is a wealth of information covering the prerequisite knowledge that helps educators contextualize and explain the information in the modules. The Science Notes page goes over this information and serves as a reference which educators can hold on to throughout discussions.

Resources include labs, multi-day workshops, online readings, powerpoint presentations, and classroom activities designed to get students thinking about the climate and contextualizing their own observations within the world around them to the macro-scale trends they read about. At the need of each module there is a handy assessment to help gauge the students’ working knowledge of the lesson. The site also provides a directory of accredited resources for climate data and links to interactive tools which help students explore climate science and our changing planet. There is even a Climate Detectives module which takes students on a virtual expedition on the ocean drilling research vessel JOIDES Resolution. This is a fantastic way to get students interested in pursuing careers in climate science, and thinking about the different areas of study which fall under its umbrella.

Below is a brief summary of each module:

Glacier melts as a result of climate change's effects on global temperatures
Source: Wikipedia Images

Snow and Ice are two of the most important actors on the climate stage, reflecting much of the sun’s energy through the albedo effect, and holding onto vast water and carbon dioxide reserves outside of the oceans.

  • What is the cryosphere?

  • How and why does the cryosphere change over time and space?

  • What are the timescales associated with changes in the cryosphere?

  • How do climate and the cryosphere influence each other?

Climate influences our environment through a series of feedback loops, and exploring the complex chorus of interactions which summate to be our climate can help us prepare ourselves for changes to the surrounding biosphere.

Key questions addressed by this unit include:

The biosphere consists of the parts of the planet occupied by living organisms.
  • What is Earth's radiation balance, and what role does it play in climate?

  • How do the major atmospheric and ocean circulation patterns influence climate?

  • What are Earth's biomes; how do they vary with location, and how do they relate to climate?

  • How does climate change over short, medium, and long time spans?

  • How is life affected by changes in the Earth's climate?

  • How do scientists know that the climate has changed in the past and how it may change in the future?

The Global Carbon Cycle - Originally uploaded in EarthLabs:Climate and the Carbon Cycle

Carbon is essential to life on earth, and understanding carbons role in climate change is a crucial step in analyzing the interactions between the earth’s major subsystems, and our role its accelerating dynamics.

Key questions addressed by this unit include:

  • How do the carbon cycle, climate and the environment influence each other?

  • How does carbon move through the Geosphere and the Biosphere, in what forms and at what time and spatial scales?

  • How is the carbon cycle interconnected with other biochemical cycles such as the nitrogen cycle?

  • How does the carbon cycle regulate the temperature of Earth's atmosphere?

  • Will carbon dioxide continue to rise, and if so, what can we do about it?


Coral reefs are submarine rainforests, housing near unparalleled biodiversity, supporting nearly half of all marine fish species and providing economic value to nearby cities. Despite the the economic impact of losing reefs, global reefs are on the brink of extinction, which would be one of the biggest blows to both marine and terrestrial life.

Key questions addressed by this unit include:

  • What is coral?

  • Why do coral reefs matter to humans?

  • Where does coral thrive, survive, and die?

  • What factors influence coral reef health?

  • How will coral reefs respond to projected global warming?

Earth’s climate has changed, and continues to change, as a consequence of climate cycles, but exactly how fast, and how much of that change is human-caused, are questions of concern for scientists and policymakers aiming to mitigate the problems associated with accelerating climate change.

  • What are some of the specific types of evidence that scientists gather as they examine marine sediment cores?

  • What Earth processes combine to produce sequences of sediments on the ocean floor?

  • Why is it important to understand climate history?

  • How does the advance and retreat of glaciers affect rates of deposition and other Earth processes?

  • What are climate cycles and what causes them?

  • What is proxy data and how is it used to reveal past climate history?

Drought is the silent killer; while it does not get as much media coverage as other natural disasters, drought’s tenacity impoverishes the world’s ecological resources, disrupting the environment and devastating entire region’s economies.

Key Questions addressed by this unit include:

  • What is drought?

  • What are its causes, symptoms, and impacts?

  • Where and when does drought occur?

  • How can humans reduce the impacts of drought?

  • Can new technologies beat drought?

Drought Timeline Stages - Originally uploaded in EarthLabs:Drought.

After learning about the different earth systems, incorporating that knowledge into a cohesive understanding of our planet is key to climate literacy. Understanding their interactions is requisite to making informed decisions regarding how to manage, protect, and sustain our planet and its natural resources.

Key questions addressed by this unit include:

  • What is Earth System Science?

  • How can we describe Earth as a system?

  • How are energy and matter exchanged among the four main components of the Earth system (atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere)?

  • How does the Earth system change over time?

  • How is life affected by changes in the Earth system?

Poorly managed fishing, inadequate protection of marine environments, pollution, fish farming by-products, and climate change are all placing stress on the marine food chain, from plankton to humans. Educating students about sustainable fishing practices is a valuable step in the development of informed, environmentally responsible citizens capable of restoring one of Earth's most precious commodities—fish.

Key Questions addressed by this unit include:

  • What is ecosystem-based fisheries management?

  • What factors influence the sustainability of fisheries?

  • What types of tools are used to facilitate ecosystem-based fisheries management?

  • Can the future sustainability of fisheries be predicted?

  • How does global climate change affect fisheries?

Hurricanes are one of the most covered natural disasters covered by news media, and as research pours out that explains the increased risk for more devastating storms as a result of anthropocentric climate change, it has become imperative that we understand exactly how these storms work and interact with our climate so that we can adapt to, mitigate, and prepare for these phenomena.

Key Questions addressed by this unit include:

  • What is a hurricane?

  • How do they form?

  • When and where do hurricanes occur?

  • Has the frequency and intensity of hurricanes changed over time?

  • What factors influence the strength or intensity of hurricanes?

  • How do warm ocean waters fuel hurricanes?

  • What are the dangers to life and property in a hurricane?

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