Atmospheric Circulation & Climate
This unit examines wind and the factors that affect wind including the Coriolis effect. Topics include small scale winds such as sea breezes and large scale global winds such as the trade winds and westerlies. A simple model for global atmospheric circulation and its influence on climate are introduced.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (8.2 MB).

PDF. Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (5.9 MB).

HTML. Click to view the presentation in html.

Online lecture (coming soon)

Classroom Activities

Drawing Isobaric and Isothermal Maps. PDF Word Doc In this activity, students have the opportunity to draw contours (isolines) from barometric pressure and temperature data on a map. This gives students an opportunity to develop skills in graphical representation of data and analysis. In the first part, students draw isobars (lines of equal pressure) for weather stations around the U.S. In this simplified exercise, students will not need to interpolate values between stations in order to draw their map. In addition, students have the opportunity to interpret these data and predict wind direction and regions of likely precipitation. In the second part, students draw isotherms (lines of equal temperature) from reported temperature data across the U.S. The second part of the activity is a bit more complicated and requires students to interpolate values between data on the map. Depending on the needs of your classroom, this may be divided into two activities than can be run separately. Teacher Answer Key PDF

Coriolis Effect Activity: How Does Earth's Rotation Affect Wind? PDF In this activity from the Davis School District (UT) , students model the deflection of winds and other free-moving objects due to the Coriolis effect. However, teachers should be aware that this model has serious limitations. In this simple model, deflection to the right in the northern hemisphere (and to the left in the southern hemisphere) is modeled by drawing a line on a rotating balloon from pole toward the equator. However, if students draw a line from the equator to a pole, the opposite (and incorrect) deflection is portrayed. This is because the apparent deflection due to Coriolis is not simply due to the Earth's surface rotating below a free-moving object above the Earth's surface. The momentum of an object also affects its apparent path. See the videos below for more explanation. However, this model can be used as a teachable moment where students can evaluate the accuracy of the model and its boundary conditions.

Hot Air Balloon This activity demonstrates how hot air rises in the atmosphere due to buoyancy. Two balloons are filled with air; one balloon is filled with room-temperature air and the other is filled with hot air using a hair dryer. Due to potential hazards with constructing the balloon, it is advised to construct the balloon before class. The documents below include instructions for making the balloon and a student assessment that can be run during the demonstration. See the unit on Heating the Earth's Atmosphere for a PowerPoint and streamed lecture that accompanies this demonstration.

Convergence versus Divergence PDF In this simple activity/demonstration, students model divergence and convergence in the atmosphere resulting in vertical air movement. This is an important process in atmospheric circulation.

Convection Cell Activity (coming soon)

Weather Front Model PDF In this activity from the UCAR Center for Science Education, students model the movement of a front in a tank of water. Specifically, the model shows how warm air is pushed aloft by the movement of a cold front.

Precipitation Towers: Modeling Weather Data In this activity developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, students use stacking cubes as a way to graph precipitation data and compare the precipitation averages and seasonal patterns for several locations in the United States. The activity has different versions available that are differentiated to accommodate different ages and ability levels and is optimized for elementary school students. To supplement this activity for other locations around the world, click here to download data sheets for other global locations.

A Tale of Three Cities In this classroom activity, students plot temperature and precipitation data for three different cities (Hayward, CA; St. Louis, MO; Washington DC). In a gallery walk, students compare the data for these three cities and are guided through a series of questions to consider why they are so different.

From Pole to Pole In this classroom activity, students compare temperature and precipitation data for several locations around the world. They compare data for different locations and characterize the climate for each location. In addition, students use their knowledge about climates to predict the climate for different locations based upon its location (latitude). This activity has been optimized for third grade.

Online Video and Media Resources

The Coriolis Effect Great animations in this video from Nova PBS explain the apparent deflection of an object moving above the Earth's surface due to the Coriolis effect.

The Truth About Toilet Swirl This joint video from Veristasium and Smarter Every Day investigates the direction that water will "swirl" when it is drained from a large container due to the Coriolis effect.

Useful Websites

National Oceanograpic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) This federal agency is focused on the conditions of the atmosphere and oceans. NOAA conducts reseearch and provides data on oceans, weather, climate, fisheries, and aviation.

National Weather Service The NWS provides weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings.The site provides current conditions and information on current weather hazards and floods.

Unisys Weather This site provides graphical weather information. Much of it is highly technical, but the archive contains great information on hurricanes and satellite imagery.

Weather Underground The Weather Underground is a network that provides weather data. Of particular interest is the data on historical weather where you can look up the weather data for locations around the globe.

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate. Weather is the combination of sunlight, wind, snow or rain, and temperature in a particular region at a particular time. People measure these conditions to describe and record the weather and to notice patterns over time. (K-ESS2-1).

Grade 3
ESS2.D: Weather and Climate.
Scientists record patterns of the weather across different times and areas so that they can make predictions about what kind of weather might happen next. (3-ESS2-1)
Climate describes a range of an area's typical weather conditions and the extent to which those conditions vary over years. (3-ESS2-2)

Middle School
ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. (MS-ESS2-6)
Because these patterns are so complex, weather can only be predicted probabilistically. (MS-ESS2-5).

Common Scientific Misconceptions

Coming soon

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