What makes a greenhouse gas a greenhouse gas?
Topic: Explore the interaction of different atmospheric gases with different types of radiation.
Course Type: Introductory level university, any size class
This activity teaches Climate Literacy Essential Principle 2: Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system
This activity teaches Concept C - Greenhouse Effect. The amount of solar energy absorbed or radiated by Earth is modulated by the atmosphere and depends on its composition. Greenhouse gases— such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane— occur naturally in small amounts and absorb and release heat energy more efficiently than abundant atmospheric gases like nitrogen and oxygen. Small increases in carbon dioxide concentration have a large effect on the climate system.
GoalsStudents should be able to do the following:
1. CONTRAST how greenhouse gases interact with visible and infrared radiation compared to major atmospheric constituents
2. DESCRIBE what happens to photons that are absorbed and re-emitted by greenhouse gases
This activity uses the Greenhouse Effect on-line interactive simulation from the PhET group at the University of Colorado.
Activity 1: Students use the simulation to rank five atmospheric gases (CH4, CO2, H2O, N2, and O2) based on each molecules' tendency to absorb (1) infrared radiation, and (2) visible radiation. Students decide how to use the simulation to collect data to support their rankings, and they report both their approach and their results.
This activity could be used as:
- a pre-class exercise with reporting of results in a course management system prior to a followup class
- an in-class individual or group exercise, with reporting of results in class
- a homework assignment
Instructors provide instruction sheets to students, compile submissions for class discussion, and assess student learning. This activity can be used in the early stages of learning about the greenhouse effect.
Teaching MaterialsStudent handout (Microsoft Word 45kB Jun15 11)
Answer key and instructor tips (Microsoft Word 63kB Jun15 11)
Ideas for Assessment questions (Microsoft Word 50kB Jun15 11)
Connections to other Activities
This activity is one of a suite of five activities designed to address the concepts that address how the greenhouse effect influences global temperature (Principle 2, Concept C) which can be used individually or combined as desired.
This activity can be used in conjunction with the Greenhouse Gas Demonstration.
ReferencesThis activity is based on two activities in the PhET collection:
SERC's module on Teaching with PhET Simulations, authored by Sam McKagan, based on material from the PhET Team.
More on this topic from CLEAN
How to teach with this principle from the CLEAN site
See CLEAN reviewed activities for teaching about Greenhouse Effect