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Human Energy Systems | Activity 6.1

Activity 6.1: Making Predictions About The Future of Earth’s Systems (30 min)

Students use the long-term trends in the Keeling Curve and Arctic Sea Ice graphs to make predictions about the future.

Resources Provided


Prepare a computer with a projector to display the PPT.


1. Introduce the lesson.

Open 6.1 Making Predictions About Future Earth Systems PPT.

Tell students that in this lesson, they will revisit much of the information they learned earlier in the unit to think about the future. In this first activity, they will use data to make predictions about what will happen to Earth’s systems in the future. Tell students that it is usually impossible to know with 100% confidence what will happen in the future. However, scientists can often make very good predictions about the future by identifying patterns in data collected over time.

Use slide 2-3 to discuss how scientists use patterns in data to make informed predictions about the future.

  • Slide 2: Students should share their ideas about examples of how patterns in data are used to predict the future with a partner. Then call on a few students to share their ideas with the class.
  • An example that students are probably familiar with is weather forecasting. Meteorologists use patterns in past weather conditions (temperature, pressure, wind speed etc.) to predict the weather in the future. Their predictions for tomorrow’s weather are not always 100% correct, but they are often very close approximations and certainly very helpful as we plan our daily activities (such as whether to bring a jacket or umbrella). Other examples include scientists’ ability to predict the phases of the moon and solar eclipses, even a hundred years from now.
  • Slide 3: Explain that patterns in large-scale data that we have been looking at in this unit (temperature, sea level, ice extent, and atmospheric CO2) can be used to make informed predictions about the future state of Earth’s systems.


Use the students’ ideas in the class discussion to see if they see the difference between short-term and long-term variation and their relationship to predictable and unpredictable projections about the future. At the end of this activity, you want the students to understand why using short-term data that includes a lot of random short-term variation (sea ice extent, sea level, and global temperatures) is not very useful for making precise predictions about specific years in the future, but that the longer-term trends are very predictable.


Allow students to visit the following websites to discuss how scientists use patterns in data to make predictions about the future: