By Susan M. Frack and Bridget Littrell

Sunny and 92 degrees on Monday--Rainy and 67 degrees on Tuesday?!? Just what kind of weather is being described here? Not to worry, it’s only June in Nebraska. Temperatures here can vary as much as 30 degrees in a 24 hour period. But what about longer periods of time--say from year-to-year or from 10 years to the next ten years? These longer periods of time are described as climate rather than weather. This unit will help you and your students investigate climate changes happening now, those that happened in the past, and help you predict what will happen in the future.

Now, here are several terms and explanations to get you started in your studies.

What is Climate?

Climate is the weather we expect over the period of a month, a season, a decade, or a century. More technically, climate is defined as the weather conditions resulting from the mean state of the atmosphere-ocean-land system, often described in terms of "climate normals" or average weather conditions.

What is Paleoclimatology?

Paleoclimatology is the study of past climate. The word is derived from the Greek root "paleo-," which means "ancient," and the term "climate." Paleoclimate is climate that existed before humans began collecting instrumental measurements of weather (e.g., temperature from a thermometer, precipitation from a rain gauge, sea level pressure from a barometer, wind speed and direction from an anemometer). Instead of
instrumental measurements of weather and climate, paleoclimatologists use natural environmental (or "proxy") records to infer past climate conditions. Paleoclimatology not only includes the collection of evidence of past climate conditions, but the investigation of the climate processes underlying these conditions.

The Plan

2-3 weeks before you want to teach this unit, you must make several terrariums depicting different climate situations such as a desert, a rain forest, a woodland, a grass land, etc. To help you set up your terrariums, use the books, Terrarium Habitats by Lawrence Hall of Science, or Bottle Biology by Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Session 1: Introduction to Climates:

  1. Present teacher-made terrariums to the class. Have the students work in groups of 2 to make lists of similarities and differences in the terrariums. Discuss student lists as a class and make a master class list of similarities and differences.
  2. Discuss the terrariums with the class as a system and relate the parts of each terrarium to the parts of the earth’s system:
    • Soil= geosphere
    • Water= hydrosphere
    • Container, top, and air= atmosphere
    • Plants/animals= biosphere
  3. Give Climate Zone activity worksheet to students to complete. This worksheet will help students investigate and understand the different climates zones that exist in the world today.

Session 2: Introduction to the concept of Paleoclimatology

  1. Present a Power point presentation to the class on the concept of Paleoclimatology. Discuss the concept with the students as you present it and encourage students to take notes.
  2. Have students complete the Paleoclimatology Power reading/activity worksheet.

Session 3: Pollen I.D. Lab

Have students complete the How Does Pollen Get Around? lab activity to help them understand the differences in modern types of pollen. See Teacher Notes to prepare pollen stain.

Session 4: Paleo Pollen (description page lost)

  1. Have students look at pictures of paleo pollen. Use the pictures included here. Look in the slide sets or the gallery for the pollen pictures. Discuss the types of plants that they come from and make lists of conditions that would be necessary for each type of plant to grow ( see guide included with the paleo pollen pictures.)
  2. Have students write a 1 page discussion on how pollen can be used to determine past climates.

Session 5: Paleo Pollen Lab (description page lost).

Have students complete the What Information Do Paleobotanists Use to Study Ancient Climates? Activity.

Session 6: SODAS Activity

  1. Present the following problem to the students, “What effects has Man had on the world’s climate?” Have students go to the computer lab and do research to find answers to the questions. Use the websites listed in the website list.
  2. Have students work in groups of 3 and complete the y.
  3. Discuss, as a class, the SODAS activity and come up with the big three contributions: pollution, burning of fossil fuels, and land development.
  4. Complete the Webbing Activity to see the interconnectedness of man’s effects on the world’s climate.

Session 7: Investigating Greenhouse Gases

Have students complete the jigsaw activity, Pie in the Sky. Use any books/resources available from you school library for the students to their research.

Session 8:ClimProb Activity

Have students complete the activity, Is it Hotter This Year Than Yesteryear? See teacher notes for instructions on using ClimProb software program.

Session 9: Nebraska Climate/Vegetation Prediction activity

Have Students complete the Activity, Get Out Your Crystal Ball.

Session 10: Climate Prediction activity

Have students complete the final prediction and presentation activity.

Teacher Notes:

Pollen Stain:

  • 50% water
  • 33% ethyl alcohol
  • 17% glycerin
  • Basic fuschian for color

Using ClimProb:

To obtain ClimProb, contact:

Steven J Meyers
Assistant Professor in Natural and Applied Sciences (Earth Science)
Office Address: LS 446
Mailing Address: ES 317
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

  • Click on the “start climprob” button and follow the prompts.
  • Click on the Data button at the top of the screen to locate the city and state your want to collect data from.
  • Click on the data button to choose the time frame that matches what data you are looking for.
  • Click on the Variable button and select the temperature mode. Select the average max, then the average min, and finally, the average mean mode to complete the data sheet. The slope information will be found at the bottom of all of the data on the right side of the screen.
  • Graphs are obtained by clicking on the graph button after the average temperatures have been calculated.

Additional information helpful for instruction:

  • Equatorial Rain forests: found need the equator or low latitudes
  • Polar regions: found in ice cap climates
  • Humid continental climates: are in the middle of climates away from
    ocean currents
  • Marine west coast climates : found on the west side of the continent;
    always located in the middle latitude
  • Highland climates: are located in areas of highest elevations e.g.
  • Savannas: generally located in middle latitudes on the fringes of the
    desert areas
  • Steppes: are located near deserts and usually in the middle latitudes
  • Deserts: located in low altitudes
  • Subartic and tundra climates: are in high latitudes





  • Global Change Education Resource Guide by Lynn L. Mortensen, Ph.D.
  • The Inclusion Puzzle-Fitting the Pieces Together by Dr. Richard Villa
  • Modern Earth Science by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston


  • Steve Meyer, formerly UNL, ClimProb activities and Nebraska vegetation Prediction activity
  • Richard Levy, Dawes Middle School, pollen activities

Student Objectives

  1. Understand/Explain that there are different climate zones existing throughout the world.
  2. Discuss/Explain the components that make one climate zone different from another climate zone.
  3. Explain that the different climate zones have changed over time and be able to give reasons for the change.
  4. Describe man’s effect on climate.
  5. Be able to predict the changes in future climate based on evidence learned about past and present climate changes.
  6. Discuss the effects that climate change has on the ecosystem of a particular area.

Nebraska Standards

  • Science: 12.1.1, 12.1.2, 12.1.3, 12.1.5, 12.4.4, 12.5.1, 12.5.3, 12.6.1, 12.6.2,12.7.2, 12.7.4, 12.8.2
  • Topics: Environmental Change, Weather and Climate
  • Disciplines: Environmental Science, Earth Science, Social Studies