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Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Robert A. Rohde, (from published NOAA data)

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This figure, the famous Keeling Curve, shows the history of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as directly measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This curve is an essential piece of evidence that shows the increased greenhouse gases that cause recent increases in global temperatures.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Static Visualization supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts
High School: 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

About the Science

  • The Keeling Curve, measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii is the the longest record of measured atmospheric CO2 levels and has been independently confirmed at many other sites around the world.
  • The annual fluctuation in carbon dioxide is caused by seasonal variations in carbon dioxide uptake by land plants. Since many more forests are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere, more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere during Northern Hemisphere summer than during Southern Hemisphere summer.
  • This annual cycle is shown in the inset figure by taking the average concentration for each month across all measured years. This cycle is sometimes referred to as the "breathing" of the Earth.
  • The red curve shows the average monthly concentrations, and the blue curve is a moving 12 month average.
  • Data used to make the graph is referenced to NOAA at: ftp://ftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccg/co2/trends/co2_mm_mlo.txt
  • Comments from expert scientist: Plot is clear and easy to understand and quickly conveys the two take home messages of this resource material. Text is written at a level appropriate for the general public and is of an appropriate length and level of detail for a casual reader.

About the Pedagogy

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent quality and can be downloaded at a variety of resolutions for presentations.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Static Visualization supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

MS-ESS3.D1:Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

MS-PS3.D1:The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur. In this reaction, carbon dioxide and water combine to form carbon-based organic molecules and release oxygen.

MS-PS3.D2:Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Patterns, Cause and effect

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

HS-ESS2.D2:Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen.

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

HS-LS1.C4:As a result of these chemical reactions, energy is transferred from one system of interacting molecules to another. Cellular respiration is a chemical process in which the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and new compounds are formed that can transport energy to muscles. Cellular respiration also releases the energy needed to maintain body temperature despite ongoing energy transfer to the surrounding environment.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Patterns, Cause and effect

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

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

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