EarthLabs for Educators > Climate and the Carbon Cycle > Lab 4: Forests: Changes in the Land

Lab 4:Forests: Changes in the Land

The lab activity described here was developed by Candace Dunlap of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

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Investigation Summary and Learning Objectives

Students listen to a researcher describe the changes that warming is bringing to the Boreal Forest, which extends across the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia south of the tundra. The warmer, drier weather leads to more intensive fires in this region of conifers. As the faster-growing deciduous trees replace the conifers, the most significant changes may be ones that are not even visible.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

For more information about the TOPIC, read the section titled Background Information under Additional Resources below

Activity Overview

In Part A: Students use videos and satellite images to investigate the impact of wildfires, drought and deforestation on forest cover and changes in the carbon cycle. They use a time series interactive developed by NASA to analyze forest cover changes in the Amazon Rainforest and its affect on the Amazon forest to remain a strong carbon sink. Next, they learn how deforestation, combustion and decomposition caused by slash and burn farming methods all work together to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A solution to mitigate problems caused by slash and burn farming are explored in a mini case study on farming methods using method using Inga Trees. Lastly, students use the Global Forest Watch tool from the World Resources Institute to develop their own original research question on changes in forest cover and access real time data, images and other information to to use in a presentation.

In Part B: Students will analyze a case study of Northern Boreal Forests undergoing ecological changes and the relationship of these changes to the carbon cycle and climate. They view a video from the American Museum of Natural History, read a background essay to explore the effects of wildfires on the complex carbon cycle of the Northern Boreal Forests ecosystem and identify causal relationships and feedbacks that emerge from changes in the Boreal Forest ecosystem.

Printable Materials

To download one of the PDF or Word files below, right-click (control-click on a Mac) the link and choose "Save File As" or "Save Link As."

Note: There are no Stop and Think questions for Lab 4B

Teaching Notes and Tips

In Part A:

Students shouldn't have any problem with this section. The task assignment for the slash and burn case study can easily be done at home.

In Part B:

You only want to view the first section of the AMNH movie "The Ecology of Climate Change" Reading the accompanying essay at the AMNH site is critical to being able to do this assessment. For AP Environmental students, you might prefer to have your students read several articles on the same subject from Nasa's Earth Observatory. They are linked below.

Evolving in the Presence of Fire
Migration of the Boreal Forest
A Forest on the Threshold
The Boreas-Atmospheric project

Student Notebooks

Student notebooks are optional. Here are just a few suggestions for what to include in student notebooks for Lab 3:

Note: You may want to separate actual data collection and analysis into a Lab Notebook.


There are several options for assessments of students understanding of material produced in this Lab. Teachers can choose from the following list or create their own assessments.

Assessment Options:

  1. Assess student understanding of topics addressed in this investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.
  2. Teachers may want to grade the Boreal Forest activity in Lab 4B .
  3. Written Test for Lab 4 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 234kB Jan21 14) (Answer Key (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 252kB Jan21 14))

National Science Teaching Standards

Lab 4 supports the following Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

Science and Engineering Practices

3. Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

4. Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS3.D Global Climate Change

ESS3.A Natural Resources

LS2.A Ecosystem Functioning Dynamics and Resilience

Cross-Cutting Concepts

1. Patterns

2. Cause and Effect

3. Scale, Proportion and Quantity

7. Stability and Change

Additional Resources

Background Information

Other resources include: The Amazon
Deforestation in the Amazon
Forest Carbon
Seeing Leaves in a New Light
Biomass Burning

There are many other articles on the NASA Earth Observatory website that relate to carbon and forests.

Content Extension

Are there fires near you today? Use the Climate Central Interactive Wildfire Map in Real Time and the Fire Forecast to see if there is a fire near you today.

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