NWC REU 2020
May 26 - July 31



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Simple Climate Models: Daisyworld and Potential For Classroom Instruction

Audrey Brandon and John Snow


What is already known:

  • Energy balance models, through relatively simple, serve to help us understand our much more complex and sophisticated climate models.
  • Daisyworld is a classic energy balance model that illustrates how even a very simple biota can have a significant impact on their environment.
  • Many researchers have expanded upon Daisyworld and used it to represent more complicated concepts.
  • Students can learn and understand concepts more effectively when they have concrete examples.

What this study adds:

  • More explicit examples of simple Daisyworld modifications as opposed to the more complicated modifications that exist in the literature currently.
  • Suggest that non-Earth models such as Daisyworld are more effective starting points for understanding Earth-like models.
  • Point out aspects of simple models that could be beneficial as an aid in understanding environmental concepts in a classroom setting.
  • Propose ways to expand literature on pedagogy of modeling.


In the 1980s, Watson and Lovelock demonstrated using Daisyworld that biota may have strong impacts on the environment in which they live. Through investigations with simple models such as this, the behavior of more complex, big picture models becomes easier to understand. This gives simple models an important place in education as a way to explore aspects of the world around us. This study uses Stella modeling software to create simple variations on Daisyworld, explain them, and explore how modeling could have uses in the classroom and specific instances where models might be useful. A case is made for using hypothetical models like Daisyworld instead of simplified models of the Earth. Conclusions include potential ways to further exploration of classroom applications and pedagogy since few studies were found that specifically addressed that aspect of modeling.

Full Paper [PDF]