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Mass Balance Model

Robert MacKay, Science Education Resource Center, Starting Point Collection

In this JAVA-based interactive modeling activity, students are introduced to the concepts of mass balance, flow rates, and equilibrium using a simple water bucket model. Students can vary flow rate into the bucket, initial water level in the bucket, and residence time of water in the bucket. After running the model, the bucket's water level as a function of time is presented graphically and in tabular form.

Activity takes about one class period.

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Climate system is subject to the same physical laws as the rest of the Universe
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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 activity should be paired with a follow-on activity in the CLEAN collection by the same author, 'Using a mass balance model to understand carbon dioxide and its connection to global warming'- (http://cleanet.org/resources/41868.html) If not paired, it is out of scope of the collection.
  • Student activity guides are online and also in pdf/Word form; teacher version has answer keys.
  • See also: Using Mass Balance to Understand Atmospheric CFCs activity referred to in Resources section of the activity.

About the Science

  • This activity introduces students to the science of how mass balance works.
  • Concepts in this activity are essential to understanding climate topics such as how much CO2 is in the atmosphere.
  • The mass balance concept is also applicable to energy concepts like oil reserves or energy loss from a home, which is one of the examples provided.
  • This activity can also be used to introduce very basic concepts of climate modeling.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Good, clear explanation of mass balance, and CFC / CO2 related activities offer good real-life (and up-to-date) examples of its use.

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity is very thorough and contains all the elements needed to present to a college class.
  • The activity contains simple models that run in a browser, plus question sheets, answer key, and follow-on activities.
  • As many students are put off by math, this activity does an effective job of walking them through the concepts in a user-friendly, non-intimidating manner.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • All the needed elements are supplied. Student activity is presented in three formats: online, PDF, and Word.

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