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NCA Education Resources for the Great Plains Region

"Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy. In parts of the region, this will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water. New agricultural practices will be needed to cope with changing conditions." NCA, 2014

The National Climate Assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. This report collects, integrates, and assesses observations and research from around the country, helping us to see what is actually happening and understand what it means for our lives, our livelihoods, and our future. It is important that these findings and response options be shared broadly to inform citizens and communities across our nation. Climate change presents a major challenge for society. This report advances our understanding of that challenge and the need for the American people to prepare for and respond to its far-reaching implications.


The National Climate Assessment regional resources for educators is written, edited, and moderated by each team of contributors. Posts reflect the views of the team themselves and not necessarily, NOAA, or USGCRP.

Contributors: Kristen Poppleton, Will Steger Foundation
Sarah Evans, Will Steger Foundation

Through its Our Changing Climate section and Climate Science Supplement sections, the NCA contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science. This content will support the integration of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) into science education.  The NGSS also asks educators to raise the teaching of  engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry. In the Adaptation and Infrastructure Sections of the NCA, educators can find information on climate-related problems and solutions, including those that draw on engineering design.   And the Decision Support Section provides information on how decision makers across the country are using climate information to prepare for the impacts of climate change that affect where they work and live.

The NCA Education Resources for the Great Plains Region features guiding questions, key figures, related resources, reviewed lesson plans, videos for all of the NCA key messages for the region. The site contains information that will help educators and students gain a deeper understanding of climate science and the implications for the region.

NCA Report and Highlights



Región Grandes Planicies (Spanish translation)

NCA Key Message 1: Energy, Water and Land Use

visit the full Energy, Water and Land Use page

Rising temperatures are leading to increased demand for water and energy. In parts of the region, this will constrain development, stress natural resources, and increase competition for water among communities, agriculture, energy production, and ecological needs.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What options does the Great Plains have to secure a water supply for their future? Who will they get this resource from?
  • Today, 80% of the land in the great plains is used for agriculture. What do you think that percentage will be in 50 years? Why?
  • What will be the results of more dry days and higher temperatures across the Plains?
  • What is happening with water supplies in the southern Plains?

2. Key figures

Energy, Water, Land, and Climate Interaction
The interactions between and among the energy, water, land, and climate systems take place within a social and economic context.

Texas Summer 2011: Record Heat Drought
Graph shows average summer temperature and total rainfall in Texas from 1919 through 2012. The red dots illustrate the range of temperatures and rainfall observed over time. The record temperatures and drought during the summer of 2011 (large red dot) represent conditions far outside those that have occurred since the instrumental record began.4 An analysis has shown that the probability of such an event has more than doubled as a result of human-induced climate change.

Water Stress in the U.S.
In many parts of the country, competing demands for water create stress in local and regional watersheds. Map shows a “water supply stress index” for the U.S. based on observations, with widespread stress in much of the Southwest, western Great Plains, and parts of the Northwest. Watersheds are considered stressed when water demand (from power plants, agriculture, and municipalities) exceeds 40% (water supply stress index of 0.4) of available supply.

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use
Hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method used to retrieve deep reservoirs of natural gas, uses large quantities of water, sand, and chemicals that are injected at high pressure into horizontally-drilled wells as deep as 10,000 feet below Earth’s surface. The pressurized mixture causes the rock layer to crack. Sand particles hold the fissures open so that natural gas from the shale can flow into the well. Questions about the water quantity necessary for this extraction method as well as the potential to affect water quality have produced national debate

Projected Land-use Intensity in 2030
The figure shows illustrative projections for 2030 of the total land-use intensity associated with various electricity production methods. Estimates consider both the footprint of the power plant as well as land affected by energy extraction. There is a relatively large range in impacts across technologies. For example, a change from nuclear to wind power could mean a significant change in associated land use. For each electricity production method, the figure shows the average of a most-compact and least-compact estimate for how much land will be needed per unit of energy. The figure uses projections from the Energy Information Administration Reference scenario for the year 2030, based on energy consumption by fuel type and power plant “capacity factors” (the ratio of total power generation to maximum possible power generation). The most-compact and least-compact estimates of biofuel land-use intensities reflect differences between current yield and production efficiency levels and those that are projected for 2030 assuming technology improvement

Water Use for Electricity Generation by Fuel and Cooling Technology
Technology choices can significantly affect water and land use. These two panels show a selection of technologies. Ranges in water withdrawal/consumption reflect minimum and maximum amounts of water used for selected technologies. Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) is not included in the figures, but is discussed in the text. The top panel shows water withdrawals for various electricity production methods. Some methods, like most conventional nuclear power plants that use “once-through” cooling systems, require large water withdrawals but return most of that water to the source (usually rivers and streams). For nuclear plants, utilizing cooling ponds can dramatically reduce water withdrawal from streams and rivers, but increases the total amount of water consumed. Beyond large withdrawals, once-through cooling systems also affect the environment by trapping aquatic life in intake structures and by increasing the temperature of streams.26 Alternatively, once-through systems tend to operate at slightly better efficiencies than plants using other cooling systems. The bottom panel shows water consumption for various electricity production methods. Coal-powered plants using recirculating water systems have relatively low requirements for water withdrawals, but consume much more of that water, as it is turned into steam. Water consumption is much smaller for various dry-cooled electricity generation technologies, including for coal, which is not shown. Although small in relation to cooling water needs, water consumption also occurs throughout the fuel and power cycle.27

Regional Water, Energy, and Land Use, with Projected Climate Change Impacts
U.S. regions differ in the manner and intensity with which they use, or have available, energy, water, and land. Water bars represent total water withdrawals in billions of gallons per day (except Alaska and Hawai‘i, which are in millions of gallons per day); energy bars represent energy production for the region in 2012; and land represents land cover by type (green bars) or number of people (white and green bars). Only water withdrawals, not consumption, are shown (see Ch. 3: Water). Agricultural water withdrawals include irrigation, livestock, and aquaculture uses.

3. Other Resources

EERE: Clean Energy in My State
Select your state to find energy efficiency and renewable energy information about it, including statistics, renewable resource maps, policies and incentives, and U.S. Department of Energy projects and activities.

EPA- Impacts on Water Resources in the Great Plains

Blue-green Algae Blooms in Oklahoma Waters
Blue-green algae are microscopic organisms naturally found in lakes, reservoirs and streams. Their numbers increase in warm, shallow, calm waters receiving abundant sunlight and nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus).

4. Lesson Plans

Coping with Climate Change: 2 Texas Towns Struggle for Water
This lesson addresses the 2011 droughts in in two texas towns. It discusses how the higher temperatures have increased the evaporation from open reservoirs, resulting in a drop in their water levels. The use of water in fighting wildfires has also contributed to this drawdown. While some jurisdictions have been able to develop pipelines to other sources, others have had to resort to trucking water in.

Level: Middle 6-8, High School 9-12. College Lower, and Informal Direct Link

Wind Powering America
This is an activity that allows students to visualize a utility-scale, land-based, 80-meter wind map. It states, utilities, and wind energy developers use to locate and quantify the wind resource, identifying potentially windy sites within a fairly large region and determining a potential site's economic and technical viability.

Level: Middle 6-8 and High School 9-12 Direct Link

5. Videos

EPA Releases New Climate Change Video Series / The Series Supports President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Highlights Benefits of Reducing Energy Consumption
The EPA released a series of videos that highlight how to lower energy consumption.

NCA Key Message 2: Sustaining Agriculture

visit the full Sustaining Agriculture page

Changes to crop growth cycles due to warming winters and alterations in the timing and magnitude of rainfall events have already been observed; as these trends continue, they will require new agriculture and livestock management practices

1. Guiding Questions

  • What new methods could be practiced to sustain agriculture in the Great Plains?
  • How could impacts on agriculture productivity in the Great Plains affect the nation’s food supply as a whole?
  • What are two specific impacts on agriculture productivity from precipitation increases during the winter and spring?

2. Key figures

Increases in Irrigated Farmland in the Great Plains
Irrigation in western Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas supports crop development in semiarid areas. Declining aquifer levels threaten the ability to maintain production. Some aquifer-dependent regions, like southeastern Nebraska, have seen steep rises in irrigated farmland, from around 5% to more than 40%, during the period shown. (Figure source: reproduced from Atlas of the Great Plains by Stephen J. Lavin, Clark J. Archer, and Fred M. Shelley by permission of the University of Nebraska.

U.S. Agriculture
U.S. agriculture includes 300 different commodities with a nearly equal division between crop and livestock products. This chart shows a breakdown of the monetary value of U.S. agriculture products by category.

Agricultural Distribution
Agricultural activity is distributed across the U.S. with market value and crop types varying by region. In 2010, the total market value was nearly $330 billion. Wide variability in climate, commodities, and practices across the U.S. will likely result in differing responses, both in terms of yield and management. (Figure source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service 2008).

Projected Changes in Key Climate Variable Affecting Agricultural Productivity
Many climate variables affect agriculture. The maps above show projected changes in key climate variables affecting agricultural productivity for the end of the century (2070-2099) compared to 1971-2000. Changes in climate parameters critical to agriculture show lengthening of the frost-free or growing season and reductions in the number of frost days (days with minimum temperatures below freezing), under an emissions scenario that assumes continued increases in heat-trapping gases (A2). Changes in these two variables are not identical, with the length of the growing season increasing across most of the United States and more variation in the change in the number of frost days. Warmer-season crops, such as melons, would grow better in warmer areas, while other crops, such as cereals, would grow more quickly, meaning less time for the grain itself to mature, reducing productivity. Taking advantage of the increasing length of the growing season and changing planting dates could allow planting of more diverse crop rotations, which can be an effective adaptation strategy. On the frost-free map, white areas are projected to experience no freezes for 2070-2099, and gray areas are projected to experience more than 10 frost-free years during the same period. In the lower left graph, consecutive dry days are defined as the annual maximum number of consecutive days with less than 0.01 inches of precipitation. In the lower right graph, hot nights are defined as nights with a minimum temperature higher than 98% of the minimum temperatures between 1971 and 2000. (Figure source: NOAA NCDC / CICS-NC).

Projected Change in the Number of Consecutive Dry Days
Current regional trends of a drier south and a wetter north are projected to become more pronounced by mid-century (2041-2070 as compared to 1971-2000 averages). Maps show the maximum annual number of consecutive days in which limited (less than 0.01 inches) precipitation was recorded on average from 1971 to 2000 (top), projected changes in the number of consecutive dry days assuming substantial reductions in emissions (B1), and projected changes if emissions continue to rise (A2). The southeastern Great Plains, which is the wettest portion of the region, is projected to experience large increases in the number of consecutive dry day

3. Other Resources

USDA- Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation
Climate change effects over the next 25 years will be mixed. Continued changes by mid-century and beyond, however, are expected to have generally detrimental effects on most crops and livestock. As temperatures increase, crop production areas may shift to follow the temperature range for optimal growth and yield, though production in any given location will be more influenced by available soil water during the growing season. Weed control costs total more than $11 billion a year in the U.S.; those costs are expected to rise with increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations.

EPA- Climate Change Indicators in the United States
This figure shows the length of the growing season in the contiguous 48 states compared with a long-term average. For each year, the line represents the number of days shorter or longer than average. The line was smoothed using an 11-year moving average. Choosing a different long-term average for comparison would not change the shape of the data over time.

EPA- Impacts on Agriculture in the Great Plains

USDA- Climate Risks in the Southern Plains
This article addresses questions on climate change and production in the Southern plains.

USDA- Climate Risks in the Northern Plains
This article addresses questions on climate change and production in the northern plains.

4. Lesson Plans

U.S. Cropland Greenhouse Gas Calculator
In this activity students can use an interactive calculator that allows for estimations and visualizations on greenhouse gas production from croplands in the United States.

Level: High School 9- 12 and College Lower Direct Link

The Impact of a Global Temperature Rise of 4 Degrees Celsius
This lesson uses an interactive world map for students to see the impact of global temperature rise of 4 degrees celsius. This activity applies to agriculture, marine life, fires, weather patterns, and health. Students can click on the Hot Spots and see more specific issues in different regions

Level: Middle 6-8 and High School 9-12 Direct Link

5. Videos

USDA- Creating Modern Solutions for Environmental Challenges

Press Release: Secretary Vilsack Announces Regional Hubs to Help Agriculture, Forestry Mitigate the Impacts of a Changing Climate

Science for a Hungry World: Agriculture and Climate change
How will climate change impact agriculture? This episode explores the need for accurate, continuous and accessible data and computer models to track and predict the challenges farmers face as they adjust to a changing climate.

Climate Change and Soybean Research
USDA researchers are studying which soybean varieties react the best to a changing climate. For more information about soybeans and soybean research, please click on the following links.

Extreme Weather 101: Drought and Our Climate Change
Drought has left huge swaths of the United States parched this year. Are these dry conditions simply a fluke, or something we many need to get used to in a warming world? Scientist Mike Brewer and meteorologist Dan Satterfield explain the connection between drought and a changing climate in our series Extreme Weather 101.

NCA Key Message 3: Conservation and Adaptation

visit the full Conservation and Adaptation page

Landscape fragmentation is increasing, for example, in the context of energy development activities in the northern Great Plains. A highly fragmented landscape will hinder adaptation of species when climate change alters habitat composition and timing of plant development cycles.

1. Guiding Questions

  • What is landscape fragmentation and how is it affecting the Plains?
  • What is the positive feedback chain of agricultural practices affecting seasonal lakes?
  • How are predator- prey relationships linked to climate change?
  • Historically, what species have migrated to different regions due to habitat changes?

2. Key figures

Historical and Current Range of Sage Grouse Habitat
Comparing estimates of Greater Sage Grouse distribution from before settlement of the area (light green: prior to about 1800) with the current range (dark green: 2000) shows fragmentation of the sagebrush habitat required by this species. Over the last century, the sagebrush ecosystem has been altered by fire, invasion by new plant species, and conversion of land to agriculture, causing a decline in Sage Grouse populations.

Status of State Climate Adaptation Plans
Status of State Climate Adaptation Plans

Adaption Activity

Adaption Process
Generalized Adaptation Process

Effects of Climate Change on...
“Risk Disk” depicts three pathways by which risks posed by climate change can affect business, such as through core operations, the value chain, and broader changes in the economy and infrastructure.

3. Other Resources

USDA- Adapting to Climate Change

EPA- Impacts on Ecosystems in the Great Plains

Climate Change and Mitigation (Kansas State University)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a grant to Kansas NSF EPSCoR, in a massive research endeavor titled the Climate Change and Renewable Energy initiative. One of the four sub-projects in this initiative is Climate Change and Mitigation in the Great Plains. This project is led by Dr. Charles W. Rice, Kansas State University Distin­guished Professor of Agronomy.

4. Lesson Plans

Home Energy Quiz
This is an activity that encourages students to go home and see how much energy they use. It gives a chance to see where improvements are needed and what they can do to make those changes. It looks at energy use and energy efficiency.

Level: Middle 6-8 and High School 9-12 Direct Link

Climate Change and Ecosystems
This activity looks at the interdependencies among plants and animals in an ecosystem and explores how climate change might affect that.

Level: High School 9-12 and College Lower Direct Link

5. Videos

Helping Producers Manage Climate Change
This video is an introduction to a series of new Climate Hubs developed by USDA. Seven hubs and 3 sub-hubs are located in existing USDA research facilities, in partnership with USDA's Forest Service, Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, and with Land Grant Universities in seven major regions of the U.S. USDA partners also include the U.S. Department of Interior and NOAA. These hubs will address strategies for risk adaptation and mitigation to climate change, and focus on delivering these strategies to land owners, farmers, ranchers and forest land owners.

Out of Yellowstone
This 10-minute documentary highlights the voices of those working together to save the Greater Yellowstone's magnificent wildlife.

NCA Key Message 4: Vulnerable Communities

visit the full Vulnerable Communities page

Communities that are already the most vulnerable to weather and climate extremes will be stressed even further by more frequent extreme events occurring within an already highly variable climate system.

1. Guiding Questions

  • How will migration patterns in the Great Plains affect poverty levels in that region, but affect population levels in others?
  • List at least two ways that climate change will affect health in the Plains.
  • What is climate vulnerability?
  • How is climate change affecting tribal populations in the Plains? How have they adapted in the past and why is it different than before?

2. Key figures

Population Change in the Great Plains
Demographic shifts continue to reshape communities in the Great Plains, with many central Great Plains communities losing residents. Rural and tribal communities will face additional challenges in dealing with climate change impacts due to demographic changes in the region

Many Tribes, Many Climate Change Initiatives
From developing biomass energy projects on the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington and tribal and intertribal wind projects in the Great Plains,96 to energy efficiency improvement efforts on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina and the sustainable community designs being pursued on the Lakota reservations in the Dakotas (see also Ch. 19: Great Plains),97 tribes are investigating ways to reduce future climate changes. The map shows only those initiatives by federally recognized tribes that are funded through the Department of Energy.

Many Rural Areas are Losing Population
Census data show significant population decreases in many rural areas, notably in the Great Plains (white indicates metropolitan areas). Many rural communities’ existing vulnerabilities to climate change, including physical isolation, reduced services like health care, and an aging population, are projected to increase as population decreases.

Economic Dependence Varies by Region
Much of the rural United States depends on agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. Climate changes will affect each region and each economic sector in complex and interrelated ways. The economic dependence classification used in the map indicates the largest share of earnings and employment in each county.

Rural Counties
Although the majority of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, most of the country is still classified as rural. In this map, counties are classified as rural if they do not include any cities with populations of 50,000 or more

Tribal Populations in the Great Plains
Tribal populations in the Great Plains are concentrated near large reservations, like various Sioux tribes in South Dakota and Blackfeet and Crow reservations in Montana; and in Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and other tribal lands in Oklahoma.

3. Other Resources

EPA- Impacts on Vulnerable Populations in the Great Plains

4. Lesson Plans

North Dakota Tribal Members Talk about Climate Change
This lesson involves watching a short video on Native Americans talking about climate change and how it impacts their lives as they experience unexpected changes in the environment they reside in.

Level: Middle 6-8, High School 9-12, and Informal Direct link

Navajo Elders' Observations on Climate Change
This lesson involves watching another short video on how tribal lands and communities are affected by climate change. Students should discuss the environmental justice of these obervations.

Level: Middle 6-8 Direct Link

5. Videos

Health and Climate Video
The MN Climate & Health Program, in partnership with the MN Environmental Public Health Tracking Program and tpt MN, produced the film: Health and Climate. The film highlights some of the climate changes Minnesota has been experiencing and the subsequent public health impacts. The film suggests ways we can adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Extreme Weather 101: Heat Spikes on the Rise
Heat records tumbled across the country this spring and summer as heat waves and warmer-than-normal temperatures blistered much of the U.S. As scientist Deke Arndt and meteorologist Dan Satterfield explain in this edition of Extreme Weather 101, these heat spikes are likely to become more commonplace as greenhouse gases heat the planet.

NCA Key Message 5: Opportunities to Build Resilience

visit the full Opportunities to Build Resilience page

The magnitude of expected changes will exceed those experienced in the last century. Existing adaptation and planning efforts are inadequate to respond to these projected impacts.

1. Guiding Questions

  • Think of 2 resilience plans you would make to lower the intensity of climate change in the Plains.
  • What is the importance of building a resilience plan?
  • Explain the importance of at least 3 climate change adaptations that human and natural systems would benefit from.

2. Key figures

Days Above 100 Degrees Fahrenheit in Summer 2011
In 2011, cities including Houston, Dallas, Austin, Oklahoma City, and Wichita, among others, all set records for the highest number of days recording temperatures of 100°F or higher in those cities’ recorded history. The black circles denote the location of observing stations recording 100°F days.

3. Other Resources

Austin, Texas prepares for climate change with departmental climate plans
Each municipal department in Austin, Texas is responsible for developing customized departmental climate plans that detail how the department will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Private organizations protect wetlands in the Great Plains
Private organizations play an important role in protecting valuable wetland resources in the Great Plains. Although many of the plans to protect wetlands are not motivated explicitly by climate change, preserving wetlands helps the ecosystems be more resilient to changes — including climate change.

Wyoming outlines a strategy to protect wildlife from climate change impacts

4. Lesson Plans

Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation
Cartoon animation focusing on adapting to climate change, specifically in Wisconsin, by helping the community prepare for changes that are already impacting the region.

Level: Middle 6-8, High School 9-12, and informal Direct Link

Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Role-Play Exercise
In this role-play activity, students take the roles of various important players in the climate change policy debate including politicians, scientists, environmentalists, and industry representatives. Working in these roles, students must take a position, debate with others, and then vote on legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Can be used in a variety of courses including writing and rhetoric, and social sciences.

Level: High School; 9-12, College Lower , and College Upper Direct Link

5. Videos

Creating Modern Solutions for Environmental Challenges
Helping producers manage climate change

Helping Producers Manage Climate Change
This video is an introduction to a series of new Climate Hubs developed by USDA. Seven hubs and 3 sub-hubs are located in existing USDA research facilities, in partnership with USDA's Forest Service, Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, and with Land Grant Universities in seven major regions of the U.S. USDA partners also include the U.S. Department of Interior and NOAA. These hubs will address strategies for risk adaptation and mitigation to climate change, and focus on delivering these strategies to land owners, farmers, ranchers and forest land owners.

General Great Plains Resources

Global Warming Educational Games

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality

EPA- Climate Change and South Dakota

Video: Extreme Weather 101: Tornadoes