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Greenhouse Gases: A Closer Look

King's Centre for Visualization in Science

This lesson covers different aspects of the major greenhouse gases - water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and CFCs - including some of the ways in which human activities are affecting the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases. This is lesson six in a nine-lesson module about climate change.

Activity takes about one 50-minute class period or more.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 2 Performance Expectations, 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 11 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

  • Because this is module 6 of a longer set of modules, a certain amount of background knowledge is assumed within the areas of chemistry, physics and quantitative thinking. This may be off-putting for some students, so educators may want to provide scaffolding to support students as they work through the questions.
  • Whole module is available at http://www.explainingclimatechange.ca/Climate%20Change/Lessons/lessons.html
  • Depending on background knowledge, instructors may want to explain the IR graph in a bit more detail (such as explaining what transmittance is) to increase student understanding.
  • This activity could span at least two class periods if completed start to finish. Or, specific parts of the activity could be used within a lecture or lab.

About the Science

  • This resource provides a clear explanation of the dominant greenhouse gases - water vapor, methane, CO2, nitrous oxide, and CFCs. It also provides information on potential positive feedback loops and how humans have affected the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases. Students interact with data such as how each greenhouse gas blocks outgoing infrared radiation and how the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased since the 1950s.
  • Data for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations runs through 2011. Recent data can be obtained from NOAA if necessary.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The concepts of greenhouse gases are introduced in a simple (but not overly simplified) way. Emission strengths are highly uncertain and also represent a huge uncertainty as inputs to atmospheric models. While there is not much that can be done about it, these uncertainties should be mentioned and referenced appropriately.

About the Pedagogy

  • This self-guided activity uses applets and visualization tools to clarify concepts. Each key concept within the activity is set up by a guiding questions. The setup allows students to walk through their own reasoning to make sense of the content as well as work at their own pace. Unfamiliar words are highlighted and directly linked to clearly written definitions.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent visualization tools and models are embedded within the activity, and these can be accessed from the 'applets' tab and used as stand-alone elements.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 2

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

HS-PS4-4: Evaluate the validity and reliability of claims in published materials of the effects that different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation have when absorbed by matter.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

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-PS4.B2:When light or longer wavelength electromagnetic radiation is absorbed in matter, it is generally converted into thermal energy (heat). Shorter wavelength electromagnetic radiation (ultraviolet, X-rays, gamma rays) can ionize atoms and cause damage to living cells

Cross Cutting Concepts: 11

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.1:Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

HS-C1.4:Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C2.4:Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects.

HS-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

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-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 4

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

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.

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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