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Carbon Dioxide and the Carbon Cycle

Pacific Islands Climate Education Partnership, WGBH

Interactive visualization that provides a basic overview of the Earth's carbon reservoirs and amount of carbon stored in each, CO2 transport among atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere, and a graph comparing global temp (deg C) and atmospheric CO2 levels (ppm) over the past 1000 years.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Static Visualization supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 2 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts, 1 Science and Engineering Practice

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d

Energy Literacy

Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.

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

  • Educator should have more background information regarding questions that these images will likely bring about. It would also be good to consider using this resource as a way for students to be introduced to the carbon cycle before launching into a larger lesson on the carbon cycle.
  • Educators will want to consider the residence time for carbon in these different sources and sinks and how the movement of carbon more quickly or more slowly from one place to another affects the cycle.

About the Science

  • Good introduction to the carbon cycle.
  • Includes several slides with clickable info boxes for more information on the visuals. The slides include carbon cycle reservoirs, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - both for today and for 300 years ago, and a slide with a graph of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere for the past 1000 years, as well as an overlay of global temperature that can be viewed to show the corresponding rise in both.
  • Data sources not referenced.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - good, basic breakdown of how CO2 and carbon are distributed and mobile on the planet
    - Should explain that carbon is a solid, and carbon dioxide is a gas in the background essay
    - Where is the ocean acidification? The graphic explains that CO2 dissolves into the ocean and forms bicarbonate but doesn't explain that in doing so, hydrogen (H+) is released and dissolves carbonate shells
    - Would be nice to also see Fahrenheit on the graph instead of just celsius, especially because the information about climate change in the background essay is presented in both.

About the Pedagogy

  • The images are simple and would be a great introduction to the carbon cycle, carbon sources and sinks, and how carbon cycles through some of these.
  • Slides show the difference in how carbon moves today vs. 300 years ago to show human influence on carbon flux.
  • This would be good for students to click through and read before being introduced to further details on the carbon cycle where they can learn more about the amounts of carbon cycling through and at what rates, as well as ways in which carbon moves and how imbalances affect things like ocean acidity.
  • Background essay provided. No pedagogical guidance/suggestions provided.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Good technical quality and easy to use.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Static Visualization supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

MS-LS1.C1:Plants, algae (including phytoplankton), and many microorganisms use the energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen. These sugars can be used immediately or stored for growth or later use.

MS-PS3.D1:The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur. In this reaction, carbon dioxide and water combine to form carbon-based organic molecules and release oxygen.

MS-PS3.D2:Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Systems and System Models, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C3.2: The observed function of natural and designed systems may change with scale.

MS-C3.3: Proportional relationships (e.g., speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) among different types of quantities provide information about the magnitude of properties and processes.

MS-C4.1: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C4.3:Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

Science and Engineering Practices: 2

Developing and Using Models

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P2.6: Develop a model to describe unobservable mechanisms.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

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-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-PS3.D2:The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Systems and System Models

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

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-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

Science and Engineering Practices: 1

Developing and Using Models

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

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