This activity is designed for students to model the global warming potentials of three major greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) over two time horizons and to model the atmospheric concentrations in parts per million (ppm) of each gas. Students will analyze the similarities and differences of the gases and make inferences.
Activity developed by AirWaterGas Teacher-in-Residence Sharon Feather, AirWaterGas Teacher in Residence with the help of Joanna Gordon, AirWaterGas researcher/
Grade level: 7-12
Teacher Preparation Time: 30-45 minutes
Class Time: 40-55 minutes
Big Idea: Human-generated greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing in the Earth’s atmosphere each year, but each type of gas has a different impact on climate warming and a different atmospheric concentration.
- Students will be able to model the global warming potentials of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide for specific time horizons and atmospheric concentrations.
- Students will be able to compare and contrast the global warming potentials and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
- Students will be able to use tables and models to determine what factors might contribute to any differences of each gases global warming potentials for specific time horizons.
Lesson Format: Hands-on, kinesthetic activity
- NGSS Science and Engineering Practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- NGSS HS-Disciplinary Core Idea ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
- NGSS MS-Disciplinary Core Idea ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
- Three clear plastic cups per each A and B team
- Black Permanent Marker per team
- One baggie of red beads (approx. 400 beads/baggie) per each A and B team
- One GWP Activity Table – “A” Team per each A team (handout link below)
- One GWP Activity Table – “B” Team per each B team (handout link below)
- One Global Warming Potential Activity Questions Sheet per student (handout link below)
- All handouts are in: Global Warming Potential Tables and Worksheets
- Print the tables on page 1 of the handout (linked above) and cut in half (there are two tables per sheet):
- GWP Activity Table – “A” Team
- GWP Activity Table – “B” Team
- Print page 2 of the handout for each A and B team.
- Print page 3 of the handout for each C team.
- Print page 4 of the handout, the Global Warming Potential Activity Questions, for each student.
- Have all material available for students to access.
- Hand out the Global Warming Potential Activity – Student Version and guide students as they build the models.
- Hand out the Atmospheric Concentration Activity – Student Version and guide students as they build the models.
- After models are finished, combine an A, B, and C team and their models for a group discussion about the representation of the models.
- Hand out the Global Warming Potential Activity Questions and allow students to collaborate as they fill in their answers.
The answers to the Global Warming Potential Activity Questions and/or a class discussion can be used to access whether the students understand the concepts and make connections between greenhouse gas global warming potentials and atmospheric concentrations.
Different types of greenhouse gases differ in their abilities to absorb energy, which is taken into account when the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of a greenhouse gas is assessed. GWP is a way to understand the impact that a type of greenhouse gas can have on climate. The larger a GWP, the more a gas warms the Earth. Carbon dioxide is used as a reference point, thus its GWP is 1. GWP is a measure of how much energy one ton of the gas will absorb over a given period of time. In this activity, the A teams are looking at a period of time of 100 years. The B teams are looking at a period of time of 20 years.
Greenhouse gases also differ in the length of time they spend in the atmosphere. In the tables that the A and B teams use for this activity, the amount of years that a greenhouse gas spends in the atmosphere is listed in the “lifetime” column.
- Have students use a carbon footprint calculator online to estimate the amount of greenhouse gases they emit into the atmosphere.
- Look at graphs of global average surface temperature over the past century and carbon dioxide concentrations over the past century to foster student understanding of the global impacts of greenhouse gases.