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This lesson guides a student inquiry into properties of the ocean's carbonate buffer system, and how changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels may affect ocean pH and biological organisms that depend on calcification.

Activity takes two 45-minute class periods. Basic chemistry laboratory equipment required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3a
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7d

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
Other materials addressing:
B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
Other materials addressing:
A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
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C) Systems and connections.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:A) Human/environment interactions
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A) Human/environment interactions.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:E) Environmental Issues
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E) Environmental Issues.

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

About the Science

  • An example of how both laboratory and field work support the understanding of global changes.
  • Activity has a strong chemistry component.
  • Great way of researching the buffer mechanism of the ocean by performing experiments.
  • Comment from scientist: Activity is based on the very newest scientific research.
  • A lot of good supplemental materials listed. This is a clever activity for students to understand buffering. The hands-on part of the activity should help the students understand how seawater can absorb some CO2 (as carbonic acid) before the pH changes. I like that this important concept is incorporated into a larger discussion about ocean acidification due to CO2 emissions, and how acidification will affect coral reefs and other organisms.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity shows the dangers anthropogenic activity has on the ocean. It also reflects on our standard of living and the implications it has for the environment. This makes the students think and might even result in questioning the necessity of some of the luxuries we have.
  • Complete activity with pedagogic guidance embedded within the activity.
  • Nice blend of hands-on and web research/worksheet activities.
  • Includes worksheets that could be used for assessment.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:


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