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The Modern Atmospheric C02 Record
http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/teachingwdata/examples/ModernCO2.html

Robert McCay, Clark College, Starting Point Collection, SERC

In this activity, students compare carbon dioxide data from Mauna Loa Observatory, Barrow, Alaska, and the South Pole over the past 40 years. Students use the data to learn about what causes short-term and long-term changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide. This activity makes extensive use of Excel.

This activity takes about 3 hours.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 10 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate is complex
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Climate is complex
Global warming and especially arctic warming is recorded in natural geological and historic records
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4e
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b
Global warming is "very likely" caused by human greenhouse gas emission
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6a

Energy Literacy

Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
Other materials addressing:
A) Human/environment interactions.

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

  • Smaller segments of this activity along with individual images or Quicktime animations could be used for interactive lecture discussion.
  • Introducing basic ideas in class before the assignment will help students get started.
  • Questions are provided at the completion of this activity that facilitate a classroom discussion.
  • Based on IPCC 2001, it should be updated to current assessment (available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/).
  • Additional data available at http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/data/index.php

About the Science

  • The activity makes use of real data from Mauna Loa, South Pole, and Barrow, AK.
  • Data set provided ends in 2002 but additional data can be downloaded from the Web (links provided to these data).
  • If data set is not updated to include years since 2002, the activity still demonstrates the same scientific process and concepts, but adding more recent data is encouraged.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The is a lab activity which is aimed at undergraduate students at the university level. It teaches them how to process data as well as synthesize it and draw conclusions by asking specific scientific questions. Resource has not been updated since 2007.

About the Pedagogy

  • The data on the step-by-step instructions for tasks 7 and 8 refer to the IPCC 2001 report, so instructor may want to update these to include data from a more recent report (available at: http://www.ipcc.ch/). This is not necessary, as the concepts remain the same, but may be useful to make it more pertinent to students since the data is more up to date.
  • The data set goes to 2002, but more recent data can be found online and added to the Excel sheet (links provided to these data on the activity sheet).
  • For students unfamiliar with Excel, a link to an Excel tutorial is provided.
  • The Reference section provides a list of good resources for further exploration beyond the activity (including animations).
  • Comparing and contrasting data sets and data models is good; students really have to think when looking at multiple emission scenarios and trying to ascertain what causes differences and what could be extrapolated for 2100.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The links to all three stations are currently broken and the animation required to do Task 2 is not currently available, but additional and more current data are available at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory website: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/dv/data/index.php.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS2.D3:Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

Science and Engineering Practices: 10

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P4.2:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

HS-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

HS-P4.4:Compare and contrast various types of data sets (e.g., self-generated, archival) to examine consistency of measurements and observations.

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P5.5:Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.).

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.2:Evaluate the claims, evidence, and/or reasoning behind currently accepted explanations or solutions to determine the merits of arguments.

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).


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