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Visualizing Carbon Pathways

Ali Whitmer, Bruce Caron, LuAnn Dahlman, David Herring, Ray Tschillard, Betsy Youngman, Earth Exploration Toolbook

This activity introduces students to visualization capabilities available through NASA's Earth Observatory, global map collection, NASA NEO and ImageJ. Using these tools, students build several animations of satellite data that illustrate carbon pathways through the Earth system.

Activity takes several class periods.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
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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Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
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7.3 Environmental quality.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
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2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.
Greenhouse gases affect energy flow through the Earth system.
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2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.
The effects of changes in Earth's energy system are often not immediately apparent.
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2.7 Effects of changes in Earth's energy system .

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
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E) Organizing information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.

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

About the Science

  • Activity is based on a case study of where the missing carbon is in the Earth's carbon cycle.
  • Scientific uncertainty in overall knowledge about the total global carbon cycle may be overstated in activity. The scientific community knows a lot about the carbon cycle, its fluxes, its sources and sinks - the activity implies that the scientific community doesn't know a lot - in fact, only a small fraction of the total global carbon cycle is unaccounted for.
  • Activity focuses on the annual cycles of the vegetation/ocean part of the carbon cycle and does not address other sources, sinks and time scales in detail.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This activity is based on the same data that climate scientists use from public repositories provided by NASA. It gives students an accurate representation of the same work that climate scientists use on a daily basis.

About the Pedagogy

  • Very dense but extremely well scaffolded activity.
  • Students may have difficulty with one of the most important learning standards e.g. describe evidence for carbon's movement through the Earth system.
  • The instructor will need to think carefully about how to assess students' understanding of their analysis of the visualizations, the relationships among three sets of data, and carbon pathways in the carbon cycle.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Websites linked to from activity have changed so some of the tools and practice activities are not currently available - could be updated fairly easily by someone at TERC but is it worth the time and effort.
  • Professional Development is available and might be very useful for educator
  • Requires a bank of computers.
  • Must download the free Image J software.

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Visualizing Carbon Pathways --Discussion  

some of the commentary on this page is out of date. The chapter has been updated and the links checked.


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