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What is the fate of CO2 produced by fossil fuel combustion?

Paul Quay, University of Washington. This activity is hosted by the Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carleton College

Students consider why the observed atmospheric CO2 increase rate is only ~60% of the CO2 loading rate due to fossil fuel combustion. They develop a box-model to simulate the atmospheric CO2 increase during the industrial era and compare it to the historic observations of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The model is then used to forecast future concentrations of atmospheric CO2 during the next century.

Activity takes 1 to 2 weeks depending on other class responsibilities. Computer with Excel software required.

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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

About the Science

  • In this exercise, students construct a simple ‘box model’ of Earth’s carbon cycle to determine the fate of fossil fuel-derived CO2.
  • The models simulate the exchange of CO2 between Earth’s major carbon reservoirs (i.e., the atmosphere, ocean and terrestrial biosphere) that are exchanging carbon on time scales relevant to anthropogenic activity.
  • In doing this, students reproduce the basic argument for the human origin of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • The dataset used this exercise was revised in 2009 to include carbon dioxide emissions for 1751-2006.
  • These new data can be used without changes to the instructions.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Involves modeling historic and future CO2 levels, which provides a tool for comparison and allows students to see trends.

About the Pedagogy

  • Background material and activity handout are included with extensive instructions that guide students through several modeling exercises.
  • Questions are included to help them reflect on what they have done.
  • While the process is directive and step-by-step, it can help set the stage for inquiry-based discussions.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The instructions are thorough and complete. Students should be able to complete the exercise mostly on their own.
  • Student handout should be sufficient for instructors to develop an answer key.
  • Instructors can use Excel or Matlab, but students should have some background in whichever program they use.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

NOAA CarbonTracker: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/carbontracker/

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