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

This video segment from 'Earth: The Operators' Manual' explores how we know that today’s increased levels of CO2 are caused by humans burning fossil fuels and not by some natural process, such as volcanic out-gassing. Climate scientist Richard Alley provides a detailed step-by-step explanation that examines the physics and chemistry of different “flavors” or isotopes of carbon in Earth’s atmosphere.

Video length: 2:75 min.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d
Human activities have increased GHG levels and altered global climate patterns
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6c

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Fossil and bio fuels are organic matter that contain energy captured from sunlight.
Other materials addressing:
4.3 Fossil and bio fuels contain energy captured from sunlight.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.

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

  • Use to start a discussion or unit on the misconception that volcanoes emit more CO2 into the atmosphere than human activities.
  • Additional resources from this program are available here: http://earththeoperatorsmanual.com/
  • If needed, students can review fossil fuel formation in segment 3 of this same set of resources.

About the Science

  • Penn State climatologist Richard Alley describes how we know that most of the carbon being added to the atmosphere in the last century is from fossil fuels.
  • Alley explains that by measuring the different carbon isotopes and the changes in carbon compared to oxygen, we know how much carbon is added to the atmosphere by living organisms and volcanoes (small) compared to that added by burning fossil fuels (large).
  • Comment from expert scientist: The video and the corresponding student activities useful to students understanding how scientists know that the rise in CO2 is due to burning of fossil fuels, rather than natural processes. Richard Alley is a dynamic personality and does a good job presenting the science in the video. There are four different concept activities that teachers can explore to follow up on the concepts presented in the video.

About the Pedagogy

  • Audio track is augmented by word track running along the bottom.
  • Teaching tips, learning objectives, and an annotated script are included to facilitate the use of this resource in classrooms.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent quality.
  • This segment is from the hour-long episode but stands alone quite well.

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


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