CSI: South Florida

DNA Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

If you’ve ever watched CSI, the television crime-scene drama, you are already familiar with scientific inquiry. Forensic scientists visit crime scenes to collect fingerprints, blood samples, DNA, and other physical evidence. They use the latest technology to analyze the evidence they uncover. They then present the results to juries in trials to aid criminal prosecutions or to clear people who have been wrongly accused.

Glacier Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Climate science research and crime scene investigations share interesting similarities. For example, climate scientists, like their forensic counterparts, use the latest technology to collect data. They must observe and record changes in variables (such as land and ocean temperatures, greenhouse gas concentrations, or glacial and sea ice mass) that affect Earth’s climate.

Crime Scene Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

However, climate scientists have a much harder job. A crime scene investigation typically is limited to a particular event that occurred on a specific date. By contrast, climate scientists not only must collect and analyze information related to current climatic conditions on Earth, they also must hunt for clues or proxy data (such as tree rings or coral growth patterns) that provide evidence of Earth’s climatic conditions before humans kept written records.

Raindrops Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Climate scientists are not meteorologists. Meteorologists are the scientists who observe and predict weather (the atmospheric conditions and events at a given time for a given place). Climate scientists study weather patterns over long periods of time (ranging from decades to millennia). Climate scientists also analyze patterns and learn how different elements of Earth’s climate system interact and influence each other.

Scientist Image Credit: University of Miami

With this growing body of knowledge that explains how our climate system works, these scientists can make increasingly reliable predictions about our climate (the long-term atmospheric conditions and trends for specific regions and the planet as a whole). Ultimately, scientists hope that climate research will help humanity select and use resources wisely and protect the fragile environment on which all our lives depend.

CSI: South Florida helps you investigate many of the variables involved in Earth’s climate system, just like a climate scientist! As you proceed on your journey through the modules, you will understand some of the causes of climate change, the rate at which these changes may occur, and whether the consequences are predicted to be significant enough to warrant changes in public policy and human lifestyles.

Earth Image Credit:NASA

Because climate change has the potential to disrupt human life, it has sparked intense, emotional, and ongoing public debate. The CSI: South Florida modules will help you understand what science is and is not, which methods scientists use to perform valid and reliable research, how they collaborate or challenge one another to explain the physical world, and why we can have confidence in scientists and the process of scientific inquiry. Additionally, you will gain experience in learning how to develop and critique evidence-based scientific arguments. This important skill will help you evaluate information and enable you to make informed and responsible decisions as a citizen of planet Earth.