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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»

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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.
Entered the Collection: February 2014 Last Reviewed: February 2014

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