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CO2 and the Atmosphere

Geoff Haines-Stiles Productions, Earth: The Operators' Manual

This video is narrated by climate scientist Richard Alley. It examines studies US Air Force conducted over 50 years ago on the warming effects of CO2 in the atmosphere and how that could impact missile warfare. The video then focuses on the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand; the glacier is used to demonstrate glaciers formation, depth of snow fall in the past, and understand atmospheric gases and composition during the last Ice Age. Supplemental resources are available through the website.

Video length: 9:04 min.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

mate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system
About Teaching Principle C
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Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future. The magnitude and direction of this change is not the same at all locations on Earth.
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Natural processes driving Earth’s long-term climate variability do not explain the rapid climate change observed in recent decades. The only explanation that is consistent with all available evidence is that human impacts are playing an increasing role in climate change. Future changes in climate may be rapid compared to historical changes.
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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.
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Based on evidence from tree rings, other natural records, and scientific observations made around the world, Earth’s average temperature is now warmer than it has been for at least the past 1,300 years. Average temperatures have increased markedly in the past 50 years, especially in the North Polar Region.
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mate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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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.
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Human beings are part of the earth's ecosystems. Human activities can, deliberately or inadvertently, alter the equilibrium in ecosystems.
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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

  • This video helps link past climates and the carbon cycle.
  • Teacher may wish to make a study guide/question sheet for the video to keep students engaged in the video throughout the nine minutes.

About the Science

  • Linking military research on the heat-trapping qualities of carbon dioxide from over 50 years ago demonstrates the multiple lines of evidence for the role of CO2 in Earth's climate system.
  • Animations are used to describe Milankovitch cycles and the ice ages. Finally, the video shows how glaciers act as bulldozers to create moraines that indicate past termini and animations of glacier retreat that result in icebergs, lake formation, etc.
  • The video demonstrates, through the history of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, that cyclic orbital variations or other "natural variability" alone cannot account for warming in recent decades.
  • The video shows how glaciers can be used to study past climate, allowing scientists to study past atmospheric composition, precipitation amounts, and temperatures.
  • Comment from Expert Scientist: This is a nice video which shows how scientists are using glaciers and ancient air trapped in those glaciers to understand the Earth's climate history. The narration is easy to follow and is well supported by the images.

About the Pedagogy

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent time-lapse photography segments on retreating glaciers.
  • Closed captioned text provided.

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