Project Details Visualizing and understanding the science of climate change

Project No.:
Start Date:
01 February 2009
End Date:
21 February 2012
Division Name:
Committee on Chemistry Education
Division No.:


The chemistry profession and chemistry educators play a crucial role in creating understanding about global climate change and working toward solutions. The objective of this project is to develop a set of interactive, web-based materials for global dissemination to help students visualize and understand the underlying science of climate change. Target audiences are (a) teachers at the secondary and first year tertiary levels, (b) students at those same levels, and (c) chemistry professionals. Visualizations will emphasize the fundamental chemistry of climate processes, but will also present research climate models, and place anthropogenic inputs to our atmosphere in a geo-political context.


The UN resolution proposing that 2011 be declared an International Year of Chemistry (IYC) stresses that education in and about chemistry is critical in addressing challenges such as global climate change, in providing sustainable sources of clean water, food and energy and in maintaining a wholesome environment for the well being of all people

As a contribution to IYC, this project proposes collaboration among the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American Chemical Society, UNESCO, the Alberta Centre for Research in Youth Science Teaching and Learning (CRYSTAL Alberta), and other partners to develop and disseminate a set of interactive, web-based materials to visualize and understand the underlying science of climate change.

Target audiences are (a) teachers at the secondary and first year tertiary levels, (b) students at those same levels, and (c) chemistry professionals. Emphasis will be on the role fundamental chemistry plays in processes affecting earth’s radiation balance.

The RSC has developed text-based materials for 14-16 and 16-18 year old students. The ACS has developed written materials on climate change for tertiary non-science majors. The King’s Centre for Visualization in Science (KCVS) as part of CRYSTAL Alberta has created digital learning objects (DLOs) addressing the underlying science of climate change. This project will take these existing materials as a starting point, and partners will allocate resources to create several new visualizations and embed all of the visualizations in curricular contexts useful to teachers and students. Where appropriate, material and models from the International Panel on Climate Change and from other IUPAC projects will be incorporated. A web site will be developed to disseminate these materials.

Following the launch of the web site, we envision holding a series of workshops at IUPAC, ACS, RSC, and other conferences for secondary and tertiary teachers. Materials will be peer reviewed, globally disseminated through partner networks and will provide a significant contribution to International Year of Chemistry activities.

In addition to electronic resources, printable versions will be provided on the web, and we will explore partnerships for provision of the entire set of materials on CD or DVD for users without access to high speed internet.


A preliminary list of topics has been compiled (to be further developed); order of presentation not implied in this list

  • Impacts of changing climate (i.e. temperature, precipitation, snow and ice cover, water resources, sea-level, agriculture)
  • Radiation balance (i.e. blackbody radiation, radiative cooling, albedo, spectral windows)
  • Radiative forcers and feedbacks
  • Data on changing climate (temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations, global warming potential, how do we know what we know?)
  • Climate models (global climate models, nature of science and uncertainty)
  • Spheres of influence (i.e. atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, other planetary environments)
  • Chemical concepts and curricular linkages (i.e. hydrocarbons as fossil fuels and feedstocks)
  • Language and metaphors of global climate change (i.e. weather/climate, greenhouse effect, climate change/global warming)
  • Open questions (i.e., understanding the oceans, methane clathrate hydrates)
  • Solutions and mitigation (i.e. current and alternative energy, carbon capture/storage, mitigation of impacts)> project announcement published in Chem. Int. Sept-Oct 2009July 2010 – update published in Chem. Int. Jul-Aug 2010, p. 11; also of interest …, see “Perspective on Chemistry and Global Climate Change” – a review of this project and other translations, see Chem. Int. Jul-Aug 2010, p. 8-11> Jan 2011 – the set of peer-reviewed, interactive, web-based materials has been released at (or dot ca) ; the site is an International Year of Chemistry 2011 legacy project that results from a three-year collaboration between the faculty and student research team at the King’s Centre for Visualization in Science (King’s University College, Edmonton, Canada) and chemists and educators from the Royal Society of Chemistry (UK), UNESCO, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’s Committee on Chemistry Education (IUPAC CCE), the American Chemical Society (USA), and the Federation of African Societies of Chemistry (FASC). > visit the corresponding IYC activity page.

    > preview video release

    project completed

    last update 20120221