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Timescales of Change: Natural climate change factors Virtual Lab

Join Dr. One in a spaceship and explore the drivers of natural climatic variations during the Earth’s past. Learn about the natural factors which can change the climate on Earth, and analyze the timescales and geographical extent of their effects.

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Timescales of Change: Natural climate change factors

About this Simulation

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. In this simulation, you will learn which astronomical, geological, and biological factors caused climate change in Earth’s past. The geological record reveals that natural climate variations occurred over short, medium, and long timescales. Learning about Earth’s past climate is crucial for understanding global warming today.

Explore climate change on all timescales

The Earth’s climate system is very complex. On our spaceship, we simulate Earth’s past climate variations with three different models. You can also explore evidence and learn how scientists gain information on past climatic conditions.

Change the Earth’s tilt angle to simulate interglacials and glacials (i.e. warmer and colder climatic periods within the current Ice Age). Journey through 250 million years of plate tectonic activity to learn how mountains, ocean currents, and the supercontinent Pangaea influenced Earth’s climate. Explore how slow changes in land cover and vegetation compare to the intense climatic effects of volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts. And finally, understand how volcanic activity can cause both global warming and cooling - but on very different timescales.

Fast-forward through Earth’s past climate history

Geological processes take millions of years to change Earth’s surface and influence the climate. In this simulation, you can speed up natural processes and their effects. In just a few seconds, observe how Earth’s climate changes over thousands or millions of years. The simulation also visualizes climatic effects on Earth's ice sheets and oceans. Compare the duration and intensity of different factors, or zoom out to see Earth from space. All of this will help you to better understand the global climate system!

Calibrate the climate model

Plant forests or trigger volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts to learn how they affect Earth’s climate on different timescales. Gather climate data and make your own observations. Can you predict how the effects combine and calibrate the climate model?

Learning Objectives

At the end of this simulation, you will be able to:

  • Connect astronomical, geological, and biological factors to climate change in Earth’s history

  • Differentiate climate impacting factors by the duration and scale of their effect

Techniques in Lab

At the end of this simulation, you will be able to:

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Timescales of Change: Natural climate change factors

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