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Using a mass balance model to understand carbon dioxide and its connection to global warming
http://serc.carleton.edu/quantskills/activities/co2_global.html

Robert MacKay, SERC - Teaching Quantitative Skills in Geoscience Collection

In this activity, students explore the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 40 years with an interactive online model. They use the model and observations to estimate present emission rates and emission growth rates. The model is then used to estimate future levels of carbon dioxide using different future emission scenarios. These different scenarios are then linked by students to climate model predictions also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Activity takes two to three hours. Computer access necessary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere operate slowly when compared to the processes that are now adding it to the atmosphere. Thus, carbon dioxide introduced into the atmosphere today may remain there for a century or more. Other greenhouse gases, including some created by humans, may remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4g
Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models that represent the climate system and make predictions about its future behavior. Results from these models lead to better understanding of the linkages between the atmosphere-ocean system and climate conditions and inspire more observations and experiments. Over time, this iterative process will result in more reliable projections of future climate conditions.
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c
Emissions from the widespread burning of fossil fuels since the start of the Industrial Revolution have increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Because these gases can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years before being removed by natural processes, their warming influence is projected to persist into the next century.
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6b

Energy Literacy

Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.
Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow through the Earth system.
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Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow .
Humans live within Earth's ecosystems.
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3.6 Humans live within Earth's ecosystems..
Biological processes depend on energy flow through the Earth system.
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Biological processes depend on energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
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G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
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F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
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B) Changes in matter.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark
Computer modeling explores the logical consequences of a set of instructions and a set of data. The instructions and data input of a computer model try to represent the real world so the computer can show what would actually happen. In this way, computers assist people in making decisions by simulating the consequences of different possible decisions.
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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

  • Excellent extension activities that educator should consider.

About the Science

  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.
  • Model is somewhat of a 'black box'; however this is a simple model and a supplementary page describes the basis for it.
  • Could use more recent data, but that doesn't change the basic lesson or the effectiveness of this activity.
  • Simplified modeling exercise appropriate for college students who are not science majors or who are at the introductory level.
  • Thorough background materials are available for educators.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This e-learning activity explains in a simple way some important concepts about greenhouse gases evolution and its connection to global warming. This material was built on a solid scientific basis and is a reliable source of information.

About the Pedagogy

  • Interactive with clear step-by-step instructions.
  • Answer key provided along with supplemental teaching tips.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Requires Java 6 plug-in.

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