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Time History of Atmospheric CO2

NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Carbon Tracker Program

This animated visualization represents a time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) from 1979 to 2011, and then back in time to 800,000 years before the present.

Animation length: 3:15 minutes.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

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
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Human activities have increased GHG levels and altered global climate patterns
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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

  • There are multiple data sets represented in the visualization and thus will need scaffolding by the teacher.
  • This visualization would best be shown to an entire class with scaffolding from the teacher as opposed to students looking at the visualization by themselves. College-level students would not need as much scaffolding.
  • Tutorial on Carbon Tracker is available here: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/carbontracker/tutorial.html

About the Science

  • Visualization starts with data from 1979 to present, showing the monthly variations (Keeling curve) as well as the global distribution along a latitudinal line with a very clear spike of CO2 concentrations in the northern hemisphere. Animation then moves into exploring pre-industrial and ice age atmospheric CO2 concentrations.
  • See http://carbontracker.noaa.gov for more information on the Carbon Tracker.
  • This is a nice animation showing the measurements of atmospheric CO2, and the increase through time since measurements began at NOAA in 1979. It clearly shows the increase through time and the overlying seasonal cycle in the Northern hemisphere.

About the Pedagogy

  • Animation is data-rich and students will likely need multiple viewings. Even if students do not understand ppm, the visual impact of the increase in CO2 concentration since pre-industrial times is hard to miss.
  • A worksheet to support the exploration of the animation might be helpful.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent technical quality. Site recommends viewing in full screen at HD.

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