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Trees and Carbon
http://esa21.kennesaw.edu/activities/trees-carbon/trees-carbon.pdf

Kennesaw State University

This activity describes the flow of carbon in the environment and focuses on how much carbon is stored in trees. It goes on to have students analyze data and make calculations about the amount of carbon stored in a set of trees at three sites in a wooded area that were to be cut down to build a college dormitory.

This activity may take 2 to 3 fifty minute class periods to complete.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Humans may be able to mitigate climate change or lessen its severity by reducing greenhouse gas concentrations through processes that move carbon out of the atmosphere or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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Actions taken by individuals, communities, states, and countries all influence climate. Practices and policies followed in homes, schools, businesses, and governments can affect climate. Climate-related decisions made by one generation can provide opportunities as well as limit the range of possibilities open to the next generation. Steps toward reducing the impact of climate change may influence the present generation by providing other benefits such as improved public health infrastructure and sustainable built environments.
About Teaching the Guiding Principle
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The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is controlled by biogeochemical cycles that continually move these components between their ocean, land, life, and atmosphere reservoirs. The abundance of carbon in the atmosphere is reduced through seafloor accumulation of marine sediments and accumulation of plant biomass and is increased through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels as well as through other processes.
About Teaching Principle 2
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Life—including microbes, plants, and animals and humans—is a major driver of the global carbon cycle and can influence global climate by modifying the chemical makeup of the atmosphere. The geologic record shows that life has significantly altered the atmosphere during Earth’s history.
About Teaching Principle 3
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Human activities have affected the land, oceans, and atmosphere, and these changes have altered global climate patterns. Burning fossil fuels, releasing chemicals into the atmosphere, reducing the amount of forest cover, and rapid expansion of farming, development, and industrial activities are releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and changing the balance of the climate system.
About Teaching Principle 6
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Plants on land and under water alter the earth's atmosphere by removing carbon dioxide from it, using the carbon to make sugars and releasing oxygen. This process is responsible for the oxygen content of the air.
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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

  • Before students review data collected about other trees, it would be good if they made their own measurements of trees so that the data they review makes sense to them.
  • Putting the data into excel would make some steps in the activity take less time.
  • Students may need guidance through the mathematics. If students are less familiar with logarithmic functions, the formulas can be entered into their excel spreadsheet to handle that step.
  • Rather than having students each measure their lots where they live, groups of students or the whole class can measure a place on or near the school grounds.
  • The activity would be greatly improved if students brainstormed ways that they can save trees or plant new trees as methods to store carbon.
  • Adding a few more questions on the understanding of the carbon cycle would be good to ensure student learning.
  • Measuring tapes might not be readily available but area can be measured by estimates using step length.

About the Science

  • Great activity that addresses a common misconception that trees and other plants get most of their mass through the soil.
  • A basic knowledge of reading balanced equations and calculating and molecular mass is necessary to understand some parts of the reading.
  • Comment from expert scientist: The introductory reading materials need some clarification in parts. i) The article uses the term ecosystem when it means biosphere. ii) It calls CO2 a waste product even though it is an end product.iii) Carbon as part of the carbon cycle has 3 phrases: solid liquid and gas not as stated in the introduction two phases. iv) In plants sugars are usually dissolved in water and not kept as solids. v) Carbon dissolves in water, it is not absorbed by it as stated. vi)More precise use of term equilibrium necessary: human activities have changed the carbon cycle not its equilibrium. vii) Glass window panes are optically opaque in parts of the infrared region of the spectrum. The explanation of the greenhouse effect is misleading: GHG do not absorb all of the IR energy. viii) The increase in average temperatures is 0.6 deg C not 1 deg C.
  • Comment from expert scientist: When teaching this activity be aware that converting forests into housing may sequester more carbon than planting more forests because the decomposition rates of the carbon in housing is usually slower than the decomposition rates of forest.

About the Pedagogy

  • Great way of quantifying the carbon cycle very illustrative and easy to modify so that the connection to local environment is drawn.
  • The introduction to the activity is 9 pages of reading which might be a lot for some students in the classroom (It would be a good homework assignment but teachers would need to review it in class as well.)

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Good design, all important pieces of activity are ready to be used and are printable.

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

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