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9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences, Math

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plan, 45 minutes
  • Video, 51 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Data
  • Worksheet
  • Article

Regional Focus

North America, United States


Google Docs, Google Sheets, PDF, Microsoft Excel, YouTube Video

Analyzing the Rise of U.S. Wildfires


  • Students will learn about the effects of rising temperatures on forests and wildfires, complete a graphing exercise, answer questions, and have a class discussion about the topics presented.
  • This lesson plan by ACE contains a teacher guide, student worksheet, data tables, article, and links to additional information.


  • The connection between temperature and acres burned will slowly be revealed as students create the graph. It's a slow "aha" moment, but it is extremely powerful.
  • The data tables are provided in Excel and Google Sheets.

Additional Prerequisites

  • The y-axis on the right side (US Surface Temperature Anomaly [°F]) is missing 0°F. That might be tricky for some students. Explain that 0° is actually there. It is simply not labeled.
  • Feel free to extend the data to include more recent years (2019 and on). Use NOAA for temperatures and NIFC for acres burned.
  • Temperature anomalies must always use a baseline. The baseline used in this data from NOAA is the departure from the mean temperature from 1901-2000. Note that the Earth has heated significantly more if you compare temperature anomalies to preindustrial times. All temperature anomaly data must be compared to something else, and other temperature anomalies use different baselines (e.g., 1981-2010).
  • Teachers must create a free account to access the materials.


Rising mean temperatures cause pine beetles to infest on trees thereby causing tree dryness and loss, which in turn accelerates the occurrence of wildfires. This resource explores the trend of rising temperatures and wildfire events in the Western part of the USA. It is suitable for students to examine these relationships and the causal factors. Thus, the resource is recommended.

This resource addresses the listed standards. To fully meet standards, search for more related resources.

  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS-LS2-1 Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales.
      • HS-LS2-6 Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-2 Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
      • HS-ESS2-4 Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Reading: Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
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