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Greenhouse Gas Molecules

George Lisensky, Beloit College

This is an interactive table with a comprehensive list of 29 greenhouse gases, their molecular structures, a chart showing a time series of their atmospheric concentrations (at several sampling sites), their global warming potential (GWP) and their atmospheric lifetimes. References are given to the data sets that range from the mid-1990s to 2008.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Simulation/Interactive supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea
High School: 11 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 4 Science and Engineering Practices

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

  • This web page can best be used as a resource within a unit about greenhouse gases.

About the Science

  • While the basic information about the molecules is important to have in one place, the real value of this resource is the visualization of the atmospheric concentrations of most greenhouse gases over several decades, from several sampling sites. These different charts are presented as individual frames in QuickTime movies, making it easy to move among the different graphs.
  • Comment from expert scientist: Good visualization of greenhouse gas molecules. Good illustration of time series of molecule concentrations in atmosphere, including variability among different locations on Earth.

About the Pedagogy

  • Because of the interactive nature of the molecular structures (using the interactive web browser applet, Jmol) and movie frames of atmospheric concentrations, students should be stimulated to ask a lot of questions with a little prompting.
  • Educators will have to provide background for this resource. Unfortunately, there is no teacher's guide provided.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • While this webpage is a little dated in appearance, all parts are quite functional and useful.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

  • This webpage appears to be part of the Chem Connection project http://chemistry.beloit.edu/modules.html that does not appear to be currently active.
  • Further information about Jmol is available at http://jmol.sourceforge.net/.
  • Next Generation Science Standards See how this Simulation/Interactive supports:

    Middle School

    Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

    MS-PS1.A4:In a liquid, the molecules are constantly in contact with others; in a gas, they are widely spaced except when they happen to collide. In a solid, atoms are closely spaced and may vibrate in position but do not change relative locations.

    High School

    Disciplinary Core Ideas: 11

    HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

    HS-ESS2.D2:Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen.

    HS-ESS2.D3:Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.

    HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

    HS-ESS2.E1:The many dynamic and delicate feedbacks between the biosphere and other Earth systems cause a continual co-evolution of Earth’s surface and the life that exists on it.

    HS-LS2.B3:Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important components of the carbon cycle, in which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes.

    HS-PS1.A1:Each atom has a charged substructure consisting of a nucleus, which is made of protons and neutrons, surrounded by electrons.

    HS-PS3.A3:These relationships are better understood at the microscopic scale, at which all of the different manifestations of energy can be modeled as a combination of energy associated with the motion of particles and energy associated with the configuration (relative position of the particles). In some cases the relative position energy can be thought of as stored in fields (which mediate interactions between particles). This last concept includes radiation, a phenomenon in which energy stored in fields moves across space.

    HS-PS3.B2:Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems

    HS-PS3.B5:Uncontrolled systems always evolve toward more stable states—that is, toward more uniform energy distribution (e.g., water flows downhill, objects hotter than their surrounding environment cool down)

    HS-PS3.D1:Although energy cannot be destroyed, it can be converted to less useful forms—for example, to thermal energy in the surrounding environment.

    Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

    Cause and effect, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function

    HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

    HS-C5.1:The total amount of energy and matter in closed systems is conserved.

    HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

    HS-C5.3:Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

    HS-C5.4: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems.

    HS-C6.2:The functions and properties of natural and designed objects and systems can be inferred from their overall structure, the way their components are shaped and used, and the molecular substructures of its various materials.

    Science and Engineering Practices: 4

    Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Analyzing and Interpreting Data

    HS-P1.1:Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

    HS-P1.2:ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.

    HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

    HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

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