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Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change)

This is a figure from the 2007 IPCC Assessment Report 4 on atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide over the last 10,000 years (large panels) and since 1750 (inset panels).

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Greenhouse effect
About Teaching Principle 2
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Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
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Increased GHG concentrations in atmosphere will remain high for centuries and affect future climate
About Teaching Principle 6
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Sometimes, scientists can control conditions in order to obtain evidence. When that is not possible, practical, or ethical, they try to observe as wide a range of natural occurrences as possible to discern patterns.
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Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, are transparent to much of the incoming sunlight but not to the infrared light from the warmed surface of the earth. When greenhouse gases increase, more thermal energy is trapped in the atmosphere, and the temperature of the earth increases the light energy radiated into space until it again equals the light energy absorbed from the sun.
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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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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

  • These graphs can can complement discussions and activities around anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and their heat trapping qualities.

About the Science

  • This figure contains three graphs from the 2007 IPCC AR4 Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis.
  • Titled "Changes in Greenhouse Gases from Ice Core and Modern Data", this figure examines atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O and the related radiative forcing of each.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The figure is valuable for showing the dramatic increase in atmospheric CO2, methane and nitrous oxide concentrations over the past 100 years relative to Holocene values. The figure also shows, on a second y-axis, the radiative forcing due to each of the greenhouse gases which can be helpful in demonstrating that even small concentrations of these gases can have a large impact.

About the Pedagogy

  • There is no pedagogic scaffolding, but this graphic can complement related information and activities.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Easy to access.

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

IPCC 4th Assessment FAQ- http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-faqs.pdf

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