Scientific Scavenger Hunt: the temperature increase whodunnit

Want an interactive way to introduce people to how scientists know greenhouse gases are causing the climate emergency?

Time: 30 minutes Group Size: 15+ people

Handouts: Temperature Increase – search, and Temperature Increase – search 2, Temperature Increase – answers


Get people into new teams of 5 people they haven’t worked with yet. Excitedly announce: “I’d like you to now put on your hat as a scientist! You’re now honorary Climate Scientists!”

Have teams come up with a team name for themselves.

While they are working (if not earlier), have one facilitator hide copies of “Handout: Temperature increase – search 2” (with unlabelled graphs) somewhere in the training space. Each team should have their own stapled copy. (Have a few extras just in case.)

Have each team share their name — with energy.

Explain: “As a team of researchers you’ve been given an unusual assignment. Scientists have been collecting data since 1880 just for you. One team was tracking data about temperature increases — and they have that data for you. They made a handout for you. …but the other teams have lost their data! It’s somewhere in this room. And they lost their labels — so you need to work with your team to figure out which data goes with which charts.”

Pass out the Handout: Temperature increase – search. Ask for any clarification questions on the task.

Explain the team will have 10 minutes to do this — go!

After 10’ or when groups have come up with their answers, hand them the Handout: Temperature increase – answers and give each team a few minutes to look at where they were right. 

Bring the group back (they can take off their scientist hat if they wish) and debrief in the large group. Ask what surprised them. Affirm the validity of the data.

(The data come from researchers who study the Earth’s climate and create models to test their assumptions about the causes and trajectory of global warming. Around the world there are 28 or so research groups in more than a dozen countries who have written 61 climate models. Each takes a slightly different approach to the elements of the climate system, such as ice, oceans, or atmospheric chemistry. The computer model that generated the results for this graphic is called “ModelE2,” and was created by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which has been a leader in climate projections for a generation. ModelE2 contains something on the order of 500,000 lines of code, and is run on a supercomputer at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation in Greenbelt, Maryland. GISS produced the results shown here in 2012, as part of its contribution to an international climate-science research initiative called the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase Five. Initial results from Phase-5 were used in the 2013 scientific tome published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There are more than 30 different kinds of experiments included in Phase-5 research. Phase-5 calls for a suite of “historical” experiments. Research groups were asked to see how well they could reproduce what’s known about the climate from 1850-2005. They were also asked to estimate how the various climate factors—or “forcings”—contribute to those temperatures. That’s why this graphic stops in 2005, even though the GISS observed temperature data is up-to-date. The years 2005-2012 were not a part of the Phase-5 “historical” experiment.)

Announce with excitement: “Looks like the PhDs in this room have solved the cause! You’re now Climatologists! You showed that greenhouse gases are causing climate change. You are now super scientists! Congrats.”

Laugh a moment with them. (You can play even further with this by playing Pomp and Circumstance.)