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Scatter Plots and Linear Correlation

Plot points and estimate the line that best represents them

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Global Warming

Credit: Laura Guerin
Source: CK-12 Foundation
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The polar ice cap seems to be breaking up. As a result, there has been an increase in the number of icebergs floating in the Arctic Ocean. Is this proof that the globe is warming up? What other proof is there?

Why It Matters

Meteorologists often use scatterplots of data to identify and analyze patterns in weather and climate. The data they study includes measurements of temperature anomaly, or the difference between the expected temperature and the temperature that actually occurred (positive anomalies indicate warmer-than-normal temperatures). Recent analyses suggest that temperature anomaly has increased linearly in the past few years, and there has appeared to be an overall positive correlation between temperature anomaly and time. This trend is believed to be suggestive of global warming.

Credit: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Temperature_Anomaly_1880-2012.svg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

When scientists observe data and note a pattern in the world, they want to be able to generalize what they see. They do this by modeling—finding a function that fits the data they have and then using that model, or function, to predict what will happen in the future. Not all data points will fall exactly on a single line, but scientists and mathematicians look at the trend and “fit” a trend line as closely as they can to the data.

See for yourself: http://climate.nasa.gov/education/pbs_modules/lesson2Explore/

Explore More

Now let’s return to the issue of the shrinking polar ice cap. The following link leads to a series of exercises titled “The Global Warming Debate and the Arctic Ice Cap.”


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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Laura Guerin; Source: CK-12 Foundation; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Global_Temperature_Anomaly_1880-2012.svg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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