EdGCM – Educational Global Climate Modeling

The overarching goal of the EdGCM project is to improve the quality of teaching and learning of climate-change science through broader access to NASA’s climate modeling technologies, and to provide appropriate materials that help educators use these models effectively and accurately. With research-quality resources in place, linking schools and universities to actual research projects is not only possible, it can be beneficial to both education and research communities.

Scientists regularly employ complex computer simulations to study the physical mechanisms at work in Earth’s climate system. These Global Climate Models (GCMs) or Earth System Models are used to test scientific hypotheses, make assessments of the future to inform policymakers, and are increasingly examined by adaptation specialists who are dealing with ongoing and impending environmental change. Yet climate modeling capabilities are irregularly disseminated to the majority of teachers, college educators, and even most researchers – all of whom are training a generation that is presented with a world full of climate-effected systems and decisions. So, although GCMs are one of the primary tools used in climate research, and are the result of four decades of focused development efforts (including major contributions from NASA), the fact that they have been a “black box” to many has often engendered distrust of important scientific findings. – even by scientists in other fields.

For most educators it’s an even more pressing problem. Teachers are faced with a morass of information about climate models that is inconsistently accurate at best, and wildly inaccurate often. Furthermore, the current trend in science education is for students to learn through hands-on experiences. As a practical matter, it is understandable that contact with GCMs has been limited because they generally require access to supercomputing resources and skilled scientific programmers – access that has actually decreased during the past decade as greater IT security has become necessary and budgets have tightened. But, the Educational Global Climate Modeling Project (EdGCM) seeks to resolve this problem by developing and distributing a research-grade climate model with a user-friendly interface that can be run on standard PCs and Macs. The goal is to train teachers about climate modeling capabilities, and to allow students to explore the subject of climate change using the same techniques and experiments employed by researchers. In the process, students become knowledgeable about a topic that will surely affect their lives and we help prepare the next generation of scientists and citizens – the climate change generation – who will grapple with a myriad of complex climate issues.