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Visualizing Carbon Pathways
http://serc.carleton.edu/eet/carbon/index.html

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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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

The abundance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is controlled by biogeochemical cycles that continually move these components between their ocean, land, life, and atmosphere reservoirs. The abundance of carbon in the atmosphere is reduced through seafloor accumulation of marine sediments and accumulation of plant biomass and is increased through deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels as well as through other processes.
About Teaching Principle 2
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Environmental observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system. From the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Sun, instruments on weather stations, buoys, satellites, and other platforms collect climate data. To learn about past climates, scientists use natural records, such as tree rings, ice cores, and sedimentary layers. Historical observations, such as native knowledge and personal journals, also document past climate change.
About Teaching Principle 5
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Energy Literacy

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 .
Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow through the Earth system.
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Physical processes on Earth are the result of energy flow .

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.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
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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

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.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

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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