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In preparation for this activity, students read articles on the climate of the Archean and the Neoproterozoic 'snowball' episodes (in Scientific American: When Methane Made Climate, by J. Kasting (July 2004) and Snowball Earth, by Hoffman and Schrag (January 2000)). In class, students work in groups of two or three using a simple spreadsheet climate model which allows them to calculate global mean surface temperature based on solar luminosity, albedo, and an atmospheric greenhouse gas loading parameter. They are asked to consider how each of these parameters must change from that of present day climate in order to (1) produce an Archean climate favorable to methanogens and (2) produce a 'snowball' earth. The activity requires students to collect data from the model. They acquire practice using a spreadsheet and working with others to decide how to conduct their model 'experiments'. While becoming more familiar with the physical processes that made the early earth climate so different from that of today, they also acquire first-hand experience with a limitation in modeling, specifically, parameterization of critical processes.
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