Teaching Science

Climate Resources


This is the most important unit in the grade ten course. Not for its physics content, although that does form an important foundation for grade 11 physics, but for the role climate change will play in our children’s future. I started work on this before the new textbooks were published, and have assembled a decent collection of resources. For this unit I don’t find the chapter order in the textbook particularly compelling, so I use the following order instead.

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General Climatology

In Our Time: Climate Change

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Updated February 23, 2014
In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg discusses climate change. In 1999 the weather gave the planetÂ’’s occupants a terrible beating: 16,000 people lost their lives as a result of storms. Some 15 million people were left homeless and 10,000 died when the worldÂ’s worst cyclone swept across eastern India. Hurricane Floyd wreaked 4.3 billion pounds worth of damage in the United States, Typhoon Bart hit Japan and Typhoon York hit Hong Kong and Macau. Western Europe is unused to hurricane force winds, but since Christmas 80 people have died in France as a result of storms. And in Venezuela floods and mud slides are continuing to cause devastation on a massive scale.

In Our Time: Meteorology

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Updated February 24, 2014
In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss meteorology. Many ancient civilisations believed extreme meteorological phenomena like thunder and lightning, hailstones and even meteors were acts of divine intervention. Running parallel with this belief, however, was also a desire to understand and explain the natural world through rational enquiry and observation. This complex relationship — between the natural world and divinity — has fascinated philosophers, artists and scientists alike from antiquity to our own time.

Discovery: Thin Air 1/3

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Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

We not only live in the air, we live because of it. And air is about much more than just breathing. It is a transformer and a protector, though ultimately also a poison. It wraps our planet in a blanket of warmth. It brings us wind and rain and fire. It sustains our bodies and at the same time it burns them up, slowly, from the inside.

In the first episode of this three-part series, Gabrielle Walker experiences air — and weighs it.

Discovery: Thin Air 2/3

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Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

We not only live in the air, we live because of it. Air is about much more than breathing. It is a transformer and a protector, though ultimately also a poison. It wraps our planet in a blanket of warmth. It brings us wind, rain and fire. It sustains our bodies and at the same time it burns them up, slowly, from the inside. In this episode, Gabrielle Walker investigates the good side — and the bad — of two components of air: carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Discovery: Thin Air 3/3

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Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

On August 16th 1960 at 7am, Joe Kittinger was jumped from twenty miles above New Mexico. Gabrielle Walker follows Kittinger’s short journey through the upper atmosphere and discovers how it protects us from the radiation of space and reflects our radio messages around the planet. She travels to the Arctic to witness the ultimate high-altitude aerial battleground between space and atmosphere: the Northern Lights.

Global Climate Systems

Exploring the Science of Climate

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This is a video podcast from Open University.

The idea that human activities could influence global climate first emerged more than a hundred years ago, when the Swedish scientist Arrhenius warned that burning coal could lead to global warming. The tracks on this album take a historical look at the systematic study of weather and climate, from the amateur scientists of the Mannheim group in the late 18th century to the professional climate scientists of the present day. The album draws on material originally created to support the Open University course Exploring Science.

Parts of this are a bit dry, but it makes an excellent introduction to climate science.
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Updated February 8, 2015

Climate Matching Quizzes

A set of three quizzes with words and definitions to be matched. Each quiz has three variants. Answer keys are provided.
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Global Systems Model

Earth’s climate systems are complex. One of the problems students have with visualizing them is that they are three-dimensional, while textbook diagrams are flat. As well, maps don’t give a good impression of the whole Earth — many students don’t really grasp that when you leave the edge of the map you reappear at the other side!

This assignment has students build a model and ‘fill in’ as many climate systems as they can. To keep things manageable I suggest supplying the model, otherwise they are liable to spend a lot of time making a globe (rather than working on the climate systems) and you may end up with some very large models. Carlos Furuti has made some excellent 3D projections that make a good place to start:

http://www.progonos.com/furuti/

Penguin House

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Updated March 1, 2017
In this activity students construct simple devices to stop ice cubes melting when exposed to direct sunlight. To do so they need to apply their knowledge of energy transfer and albedo.

The backstory is simple: rising temperatures mean that in South Africa penguins are overheating when they sit on their eggs, and need to visit the nearby ocean to cool off. While they are gone gulls swoop in and eat eggs and chicks. Park rangers constructed simple ‘huts’ on the beach that provide shelter from the sunlight.

To simulate actual penguins this activity uses penguin-shaped ice cubes. Students must design and construct a small hut to shelter their penguin, provide a drawing explaining how to construct the hut, and explain how their design affects energy transfer (specifically absorption, reflection, radiation, convection, and conduction).

This PDF file contains a 2-page student handout, a 2-page teacher’s guide, and a marking rubric (referencing the Ontario curriculum and achievement levels).

Winds

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A six-page overview of winds, written by Dr. David Morgan-Mar and provided by him under a Creative Commons license.

Our weather is controlled by the sun. It also depends on local geography to refine the details. Here, the most important thing is whether the local region is land or sea. After that, the details of sea temperature or the topography of the land come into things as well. But the large patterns of our weather are driven by sunshine.

I'm field-testing a set of questions and directed reading exercises for this resource, and I'll include them with the download when they are ready (and announce the update). In the meantime, enjoy an interesting and well-written introduction to wind.

Stormy Weather

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Updated November 7, 2013
A six-page overview of air pressure and storm systems, written by Dr. David Morgan-Mar and provided by him under a Creative Commons license.

A factor that comes into generating weather is air pressure, also known as barometric pressure when referring specifically to the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere. The air around us exerts a force on all objects because of the thermal motion of its molecules, bouncing off surfaces. It’s as if we were continually being bombarded with tennis balls, which in a way is true except that it’s actually molecules of nitrogen and oxygen and so on. We normally don’t feel this force because the air surrounds us on all sides, so the force on one side is cancelled out by the force on another. We do end up a little bit squeezed by this, but we’ve lived with it all our lives and are used to it, so we don’t feel it.

I'm field-testing a set of questions and directed reading exercises for this resource, and I'll include them with the download when they are ready (and announce the update). In the meantime, enjoy an interesting and well-written introduction to storms.

Discovery: Joanna Haigh

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Updated March 17, 2014
Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

Joanna Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College, London, explains why we need to know how the sun affects the climate: it's so scientists can work out what contribution to warming is the result of greenhouse gases that humans produce, and what is down to changes in the energy coming from the sun.

Evidence of Change

In Our Time: Ice Ages

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Updated February 23, 2014
In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Jane Francis, Richard Corfield and Carrie Lear join Melvyn Bragg to discuss ice ages, periods when a reduction in the surface temperature of the Earth has resulted in ice sheets at the Poles. Although the term ‘ice age’ is commonly associated with prehistoric eras when much of northern Europe was covered in ice, we are in fact currently in an ice age which began up to 40 million years ago. Geological evidence indicates that there have been several in the Earth's history, although their precise cause is not known. Ice ages have had profound effects on the geography and biology of our planet.

In Our Time: 1816, the Year Without a Summer

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Updated May 5, 2016
In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the impact of the eruption of Mt Tambora, in 1815, on the Indonesian island of Sambawa. This was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history and it had the highest death toll, devastating people living in the immediate area. Tambora has been linked with drastic weather changes in North America and Europe the following year, with frosts in June and heavy rains throughout the summer in many areas. This led to food shortages, which may have prompted westward migration in America and, in a Europe barely recovered from the Napoleonic Wars, led to widespread famine.

In Our Time: The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

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Added April 26, 2017
In Our Time is a wonderful series on BBC Radio 4.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the high temperatures that marked the end of the Paleocene and start of the Eocene periods, about 50m years ago. Over c1000 years, global temperatures rose more than 5 C on average and stayed that way for c100,000 years more, with the surface of seas in the Arctic being as warm as those in the subtropics. There were widespread extinctions, changes in ocean currents, and there was much less oxygen in the sea depths. The rise has been attributed to an increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, though it is not yet known conclusively what the source of those gases was. One theory is that a rise in carbon dioxide, perhaps from volcanoes, warmed up the globe enough for warm water to reach the bottom of the oceans and so release methane from frozen crystals in the sea bed. The higher the temperature rose and the longer the water was warm, the more methane was released. Scientists have been studying a range of sources from this long period, from ice samples to fossils, to try to understand more about possible causes.

Facing the Future

This is the key part of the unit. What can we give our children that is more important than an understanding of the key issues their generation will have to deal with?

Ideally, this would be the culminating part of the culminating unit of the course — but the last unit is frequently cut short when earlier units are ‘stretched’, and the end of the year is usually interrupted by festivities, so it might be better to weave it into as many other lessons as possible.
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An Inconvenient Truth

Despite all the media hoopla, this documentary is still a good introduction to both the science and politics of global climate change. Is it a simplification? Sure, but so is everything we teach our students. Click the cover to go to the ClimateCrisis website, where you can find teaching materials (tailored to the American curriculum, but with some useful stuff for us as well).

I don’t show the entire video — instead I skip through it, using Gore’s slides as a starting point for class discussions.

Hot Earth Dreams

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Added May 12, 2017
What will the Earth look like if severe climate change happens, and humans survive?

It is not an easy question to contemplate, let alone answer. If severe climate change happens, the Earth will continue to warm for centuries after we've exhausted our fossil fuels. Civilization will shatter, the great artworks and monuments vanishing as cities fall into rubble and coasts disappear beneath rising seas. There will be a mass extinction, coral reefs and ice sheets will disappear, and the survivors will migrate to new homes and habitats for generations as the climate continually changes. Only after hundreds of thousands of years will the climate to return to what we currently consider as normal.

Right now, this is our most likely future. Scary as it sounds at first, it is a future that is very much worth exploring. It's crazy, then horrible, then tough, and then increasingly strange. This clear-eyed overview weaves together the latest scientific research on climate change, mass extinction, collapse, and evolution, to describe a deep future that is ever-changing but very knowable.

Want to explore it? This is your sourcebook.

It is very difficult to get a good picture of what the world will be like as the climate warms — not just the increasing temperatures and rising sea levels, but the knock-on effects of those. Massive ecological damage, including virtually all of our staple crops… massive supply chain disruptions as ports are flooded and weather becomes unpredictable… not good news for a globalized world.

Not a terribly cheerful book, given the subject matter, but eminently readable. Dr. Landis has kept the chapters short enough that each one could be a single lesson.

I used chapters from this book to help set the scene for students. The reading level is perfect for teenagers: scientifically accurate without being technical.

Frank Landis is a professional botanist and ecologist working in California.

He is interested in putting the life back into science fiction and fantasy, and he likes looking at how humans relate to the natural world, how sustainable societies work, and writing, and (primarily) writing fun stories for people to enjoy. He also writes non-fiction, primarily botanical essays such as the ones posted on his blog.

When not writing, he works on conservation and sustainability issues.

The image links to the book on Smashwords, because if you buy it there you can download multiple formats. You can also find it on Amazon. Dr. Landis’s blog has some sample chapters and lots of other articles on ecology and science fiction. You can listen to an interview with Dr. Landis as well.

Bottled Water

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This is a video podcast from Open University.

Have you ever wondered where bottled water comes from and what impact this has on the environment? This informative, animated video looks at the complete process of producing bottled water and strives to answer the question, ‘Bottled water —who needs it?’ Highlighting the effects this has on the carbon footprint, we learn how bottled water is disseminated worldwide. This material forms part of the course U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world.

A nice animated look at a product we don’t need.

Climate Change, Children, and Youth

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Updated May 1, 2014
A resource from UNICEF and GreenLearning.

This guide has been created to support secondary school educators in their efforts to work with youth to take action on climate change.

Through the thought-provoking activities contained here, students will have the opportunity to nurture their compassion and discover how climate change is affecting children around the world, especially children in developing countries. We aim to provide you with tools that will support your students in their efforts to affect meaningful and lasting change, and inspire them to take action at a local level.
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Updated May 1, 2014

Forest Fables Card Game

A card game from the book Climate Change, Children, and Youth by UNICEF and CIDA. I made nicer versions of the cards with artwork and colour, and reformatted the teacher’s information to match my other handouts and the new cards. This 18-page PDF file contains everything you need to print and play the game.
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Updated December 20, 2014

Eating Carbon: Food Footprint Activity

A resource for exploring the concept of agricultural carbon footprints. This package contains a 2-page teacher’s guide, a 2-page carbon menu, and a 130-page set of food cards.

soft landing

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Updated July 1, 2016
soft landing is a boardgame for today. Each player controls a nation or group of nations, and is trying to keep their own people happy in a world of declining resources and escalating calamities.

You can work towards new era tech to help solve the world's various problems, or try to simply have the most stuff when it all falls apart due to Catastrophes. And you can win either way. Political crises, ecological disasters, economic meltdowns, all are things your nation's lifestyle can contribute to. Do you work to solve the problems, or simply shift the blame and hope the cost falls on someone else?

The mix of nations, number of players and personal strategies makes for a lot of replay potential. Backstab, manipulate, cooperate or do all three. soft landing is not a preachy game. You simply make the choices that best move you towards your goals, whatever those goals might be. Your ethics (or lack of them) only matter in the context of everyone else's choices, making it a Prisoner's Dilemma on a global scale.

soft landing is a downloaded boardgame, but it is pretty easy to put together and is as high in graphic quality as any store-bought game. It even has a template for a print-your-own box to store it in. You can get a free, screen-readable version of the rules by clicking here.

This game is too complicated to play in a single class. It can be tweaked to make an asynchronous game suitable for playing over the course of the unit, with students forming teams for each bloc in the game.

Cool It!

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Updated July 1, 2016
I haven't had a chance to try this one yet, but it looks interesting:

Cool It! is the new card game from UCS that teaches kids about the choices we have when it comes to climate change—and how policy and technology decisions made today will matter.

The game enables teachers and parents to talk about global warming in a fun and hopeful way. Kids, meanwhile, will learn that all of us make choices that determine whether the world warms a little or a lot, and which of those choices reduce global warming emissions.

The game requires at least three or four players (more can be added with additional decks) and is appropriate for ages eight and up. To win, a player must collect a certain number of "solution" cards in the categories of energy, transportation, and forests; players can slow each others' progress by playing "problem" cards in those same categories.

UCS staff worked with a science educator to refine the game and produce an elementary and middle school teachers' guide. A prototype of the game was tested at several elementary schools.


Play is pretty simple (the game is aimed at ages 8 to adult), but it looks like it might make a good activity to spark discussion about coping with climate change.

Geoengineering 101

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Updated January 23, 2017
This game by Alfred Twu is available in two forms: a boxed game available from The Game Crafter, and a print-and-play version available (on the Geoengineering 101 web site) under a Creative Commons license.

Action to stop climate change came too little and too late. Geoengineering, although dangerous and unproven, is now on the table. A world like this has no winners, but can you minimize the hardship your regions face?

The Story Behind the Game: There’s a wishful but dangerous line of thinking that stopping climate change by cutting carbon emissions isn’t that urgent since geoengineering offers a technological fix. Scientists have warned that while things like aerosols or cloud seeding could lower temperatures, there are lots of unknown side effects, as well as equity issues.

How to Play the Game: In Geoengineering 101, you’re one of two to four world leaders, and you have two parallel but sometimes competing goals: One is to minimize the hardship your regions endure from heat, drought, or flood. The other is to fully decarbonize the world economy. Only by eliminating all fossil fuel use can climate change be slowed and the game won. However, in the meantime, the air conditioners and pumps running on fossil fuels can shield you from the some of the impacts.

Though what is winning anyway? A world where climate change has gotten so bad that geoengineering is on the table is one without winners, only those that lose less. There's only one way to “win” in Geoengineering 101: have the least amount of Hardship when all Carbon Tokens are finally removed. There’s plenty of ways to lose: having all regions destroyed by the climate going off the charts, or when all the players suffer a total of 100 Hardship — which in a typical game, is only 10-15 turns away.

The game takes inspiration from real climate science and geoengineering ideas, as well as the political implications of different nations unilaterally or cooperatively meddling with the weather. Enjoy the game, but let’s hope that carbon emissions can be stopped before we ever have to play it for real.

After a couple of dry runs, I’m ready to try this one in the classroom. I”ll upload my classroom materials once they’re publication-ready.

Keep Cool

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Updated July 1, 2016
I haven’t been able to find a copy of this yet, but I’m looking for one. Keep Cool is a German strategy board game about climate change, designed by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Does global climate politics anger you? Do you want to make a difference? In KEEP COOL you’re a “global player”. You try to advance your own economic interests, while at the same time strong lobby groups like the oil industry or environmental groups affect whether you win or lose. When it’s your turn you decide whether to collaborate in protecting the environment or do what’s best for your own interests. You risk droughts, floods and health pandemics, but could stand to benefit from prosperity and a stable global climate. The winner is the first player to achieve their aim. But, if you’re not careful, all players could lose.

The KEEP COOL board game is bilingual German/English and can be played by children and adults of 12 and above. Supervised sessions work well with younger children.

It's pretty expensive (30 € plus shipping from Germany), but if you have connections it looks like it’s well worth playing. (This is now the third edition, which says something about both the game and the issue.)

Energy Policy and Climate Change

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This is an audio and video podcast from Open University.

The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen presents a new focus for international debate and decisions about energy and its use. What are the countries of Western Europe and Scandinavia doing to promote sustainable energy production? Just how different will the future energy map of Europe look? And is energy policy principally a scientific issue or a political one? This album contains a series of films exploring energy policy in various countries around Europe in 2006, framed by audio pieces recorded by Open University academic Godfrey Boyle in the run up to the Copenhagen Conference. He highlights the central issues that the conference aims to address, and gives an update on how European energy policies have changed since the films were made. This material forms part of the Open University course T206 Energy for a sustainable future.

This is an excellent podcast from Open University.

Culture and Climate Change

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This is a podcast from Open University.

Every generation faces challenges that previous generations could scarcely imagine. Twenty years ago, few people were talking about climate change, now it's one of the most hotly-contested areas in politics. How do artists, writers, musicians and broadcasters respond when a new subject appears that is as large and significant as this? What kind of novels, plays, paintings, sculptures, movies and music begin to emerge? ‘Mediating Change’ is a four-part series, chaired by BBC Radio 4’s Quentin Cooper, which looks at what happens when culture meets climate change. In each podcast, Quentin is joined by a panel of experts. The panellists range from artists and curators to academics and journalists. There’s also a campaigner and a comedian. Together they explore the cultural response to climate change: where it started, what it looks like today, who it’s aimed at, and where it’s going. Mediating change is produced by The Open University in partnership with the Ashden Trust. Thanks to the Tipping Point Conference 2010, Eden Project, Open University at Camden and National Theatre Studio where the conversations were held. Artwork: 'Endangered Species' by choreographer, Siobhan Davies.

An Introduction to Sustainable Energy

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This is an ebook from Open University.

The search for sustainable energy will dominate the twenty-first century. This unit provides an introductory overview of the present energy systems and takes a brief look at where the world may find energy in the future — cleaner use of fossil fuels or renewable energy sources? This study unit is just one of many that can be found on LearningSpace, part of OpenLearn, a collection of open educational resources from The Open University. Published in ePub 2.0.1 format, some feature such as audio, video and linked PDF are not supported by all ePub readers.

Discovery: Geoengineering

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Updated March 17, 2014
Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

Geoengineering is a controversial approach to dealing with climate change. Gaia Vince explores the process of putting chemicals in the stratosphere to stop solar energy reaching the earth.

Another idea is to spray seawater to whiten clouds that would reflect more energy away from the earth.

Gaia Vince talks to the researchers who are considering solar radiation management. She also hears from social scientists who are finding out what the public think about the idea and who are asking who should make decisions about implementing this way of cooling the planet.

Discovery: Saving the Oceans 1/4

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Updated March 17, 2014
Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

Saving the Ocean looks at the impact of climate change, overfishing and pollution - and examines the scientific solutions to some of those issues. In the first programme Joel Werner visits Kiribati — an isolated Pacific island group threatened by rising sea levels. They are also facing a range of more immediate problems — a high human population and a shortage of land puts pressure on natural resources. Joel meets the scientists working to keep the population afloat on these tiny coral atolls. He finds out about how this island group is threatened by sea level rise and changing weather patterns — and how in some cases, poor sea defence management is making the erosion of the islands worse.

Discovery: Saving the Oceans 2/4

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Updated March 17, 2014
Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

The second episode in our four-part series Saving the Ocean in which we look at the impact of climate change, overfishing and pollution on ocean environments, and examine the scientific solutions to some of those issues. Presented by Joel Werner from the Australian broadcaster ABC Radio National, the series focuses on the improvements both for marine life and the people who depend on oceans for their livelihoods.

Discovery: Saving the Oceans 3/4

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Updated March 17, 2014
Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

In the third programme Joel looks at how data analysis has helped reduce deaths of seabirds caught up in commercial fishing operations. He hears how the same operations may have also had an evolutionary impact on the birds. He looks at the effects of a plague of coral eating starfish on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. And he hears how undersea volcanic activity near Papua New Guinea is providing clues about the future direction of ocean climate change.

Discovery: Saving the Oceans 4/4

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Updated March 17, 2014
Discovery is a BBC Radio 4 programme that explores today's most significant scientific discoveries and talks to the scientists behind them.

In part four of Saving the Oceans, Joel finds out how knowledge of the seas from Australia’s Aboriginal communities can feed into modern ocean science. And at Seasim - the world’s largest marine research laboratory — he looks at the ways human fertilisation treatments are being applied to help conserve coral. This includes techniques from human sperm banks being applied to coral. He also speaks to the scientists unlocking coral genetics in an attempt to help them survive rising sea temperatures.

Nelson OSSLT Questions

The Nelson Science 10 textbook includes at least one reading assignment per chapter specifically geared to practicing for the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test. These questions relate to those readings. If you don't use the Nelson Science 10 textbook, they will be of no use to you.
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Updated November 8, 2014