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NASA Global Warming Demonstration

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

This demonstration shows how water absorbs more heat than air. The corollary that is made is that the oceans are absorbing a lot of the heat related to climate change. The video tutorial shows an engaging demonstration that teachers can do live in their classrooms as part of a larger lesson/discussion about global warming. The video itself also includes an animation of how greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and concludes by mentioning simple solutions for students.

This learning activity takes less than 30 minutes

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This demonstration would provide a good engaging introduction to the topic of heat capacity or climate change. While the video is meant to be used for a younger audience (Grades 3-8), the demonstration would work for all levels.
  • This demonstration fits well within a sequence on climate change and can spark further discussion/inquiry on the connection between our oceans and global warming.

About the Content

  • This simple demonstration using a water balloon and lighter shows the greater heat capacity of water, as opposed to air, and how Earth's oceans are absorbing most of the heat being trapped on our warming world. Further background information on the connection between the oceans' greater heat capacity and global warming or sea level rise might be helpful for classroom discussion.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
  • Scientific strengths: Simple, clear explanation of the GHG effect on our planet and the ocean's role in climate change.
  • Concerns: I would add the molecular reason why water can hold more heat, especially for older students since this resource can accommodate up to grade level 12. Such as: "This is because for water to increase in temperature, water molecules must be made to move faster within the water; this requires breaking hydrogen bonds, and the breaking of hydrogen bonds absorbs heat. Heat capacity is the capability of water to absorb heat without undergoing an increase in temperature."

About the Pedagogy

  • This demonstration could be a fun way to show how water has a higher heat capacity than air and can therefore absorb more heat. The teacher uses two balloons (one filled with air and one filled with water) and a lighter (or some sort of flame) and the students get to see how fast it takes the balloon to pop for each. This has extension opportunities and the concept can be applied to real world scenarios for advanced teaching, such as steam locomotives and the Chernobyl explosion.
  • One concern is that some schools don't allow for flames indoors, so it may be difficult to use a lighter to make the demonstration work.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This demonstration needs to be done by the teacher since it requires use of a flame. However, it should be fairly easy to set up the demonstration.
  • The simple demonstration in the video uses materials commonly found in science classroom to show the effect of global warming on our oceans. It also includes a link to extension activities.
Entered the Collection: June 2019 Last Reviewed: June 2019

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