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Using a mass balance model to understand carbon dioxide and its connection to global warming

Robert MacKay, SERC - Teaching Quantitative Skills in Geoscience Collection

Students explore the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 40 years with an interactive online model. They use the model and observations to estimate present emission rates and emission growth rates. The model is then used to estimate future levels of carbon dioxide using different future emission scenarios. These different scenarios are then linked by students to climate model predictions also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Activity takes two to three hours. Computer access necessary.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 10 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4g
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6b

Energy Literacy

Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
Other materials addressing:
2.6 Greenhouse gases affect energy flow.
Other materials addressing:
Biological processes depend on energy flow.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:F) Working with models and simulations
Other materials addressing:
F) Working with models and simulations.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.
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.

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

  • Excellent extension activities that educator should consider.

About the Science

  • Model is somewhat of a 'black box'; however this is a simple model and a supplementary page describes the basis for it.
  • Could use more recent data, but that doesn't change the basic lesson or the effectiveness of this activity.
  • Simplified modeling exercise appropriate for college students who are not science majors or who are at the introductory level.
  • Thorough background materials are available for educators.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This e-learning activity explains in a simple way some important concepts about greenhouse gases evolution and its connection to global warming. This material was built on a solid scientific basis and is a reliable source of information.

About the Pedagogy

  • Interactive with clear step-by-step instructions.
  • Answer key provided along with supplemental teaching tips.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Requires Java 6 plug-in.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

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