Incorporating Student Activities into Climate Change Education
Under a NASA grant, Mathematical and Geospatial Pathways to Climate Change Education, students at California State University, Northridge integrated Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, satellite data technologies, and climate modelling into the study of global climate change under a Pathway for studying the Mathematics of Climate Change (PMCC). The PMCC, which is an interdisciplinary option within the BS in Applied Mathematical Sciences, consists of courses offered by the departments of Mathematics, Physics, and Geography and is designed to prepare students for careers and Ph.D. programs in technical fields relevant to global climate change. Under this option students are exposed to the science, mathematics, and applications of climate change science through a variety of methods including hands-on experience with computer modeling and image processing software. In the Geography component of the program, ESRI's ArcGIS and ERDAS Imagine mapping, spatial analysis and image processing software were used to explore NASA satellite data to examine the earth's atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere in areas that are affected by climate change or affect climate. These technology tools were incorporated into climate change and remote sensing courses to enhance students' knowledge and understanding of climate change through hands-on application of image processing techniques to NASA data. Several sets of exercises were developed with specific learning objectives in mind. These were (1) to increase student understanding of climate change and climate change processes; (2) to develop student skills in understanding, downloading and processing satellite data; (3) to teach remote sensing technology and GIS through applications to climate change; (4) to expose students to climate data and methods they can apply to solve real world problems and incorporate in future research projects. In the Math and Physics components of the course, students learned about atmospheric circulation with applications of the Lorenz model, explored the land-sea breeze problem with the Dynamics and Thermodynamics Circulation Model (DTDM), and developed simple radiative transfer models. Class projects explored the effects of varying the content of CO2 and CH4 in the atmosphere, as well as the properties of paleoclimates in atmospheric simulations using EdGCM. Initial assessment of student knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors associated with these activities, particularly about climate change, was measured. Pre- and post-course surveys provided student perspectives about the courses and their learning about remote sensing and climate change concepts. Student performance on the tutorials and course projects evaluated students' ability to learn and apply their knowledge about climate change and skills with remote sensing to assigned problems or proposed projects of their choice. Survey and performance data illustrated that the exercises were successful in meeting their intended learning objectives as well as opportunities for further refinement and expansion.