EarthLabs for Educators > Climate and the Carbon Cycle > Lab Overviews

Lab Overviews

1. Living in a Carbon World
In Part A, students trace the pathway of carbon moving from the atmosphere into trees where carbon can be stored for hundreds to thousands of years. In Part B, students go outdoors and measure the amount of carbon in a local tree. In Part C, students learn about important biosphere processes that convert carbon compounds into new and different carbon compounds as carbon moves through the carbon cycle. Using a ball-and-stick carbon molecule kit and 3-D structures of carbon compounds, students demonstrate how carbon can bond with other atoms and create many different types of carbon compounds. In Part D, students learn about combustion, a carbon cycle process that burns fossil fuel hydrocarbons and oxygen, creating carbon dioxide gas and water as by-products. Students analyze graphs and videos to determine whether the human activity of burning fossil fuels is changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
Time Estimate: 3-4 50 minute class periods
Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in, spreadsheet program

Part B

NOTE: See Lab 1 "Activity Overview and Teaching Materials" section for a more detailed list of materials for Lab 1.

Part B: How Much Carbon is Stored in a Local Tree?


  • A regular flexible tape measure that will fit around the circumference of the tree; or a diameter tape measure; and/or a long string, marker and push pin
  • Tree identification guide and/or tablet APP such as Leafsnap
  • Calculator/pencil/paper NOTE: Calculators with exponents capability are
  • Access to a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel and Apple's Numbers
  • (Optional) Soil testing kits and meters for testing NPK(fertilizer), soil moisture, soil pH,
Part C: Building Carbon Compounds
  • A piece of chalk
  • White vinegar
  • eyedropper
  • Limewater - Ca(OH)2 in solution
  • clear plastic cups
  • clear plastic cup partial
  • two drinking straws
  • small (#2) coffee filter
  • Ball-and-stick molecular model kit to make:
  • 6 ball-and-stick carbon dioxide molecules - (6 carbon atoms, 12 oxygen atoms, 24 electron bond sticks) and
  • 6 ball-and-stick water molecules - (6 hydrogen atoms, 12 oxygen atoms, 12 electron bond sticks )


  • 2. Carbon on the Move!

    In Part A of this lab, students explore the role of food webs in a subset of the natural carbon cycle by taking on the role of a carbon atom moving through a forest carbon cycle. They learn that photosynthesis, respiration, and decomposition are key food web processes that move carbon from one forest reservoir to another. In Part B, students use an interactive to investigate how carbon moves throughout the global carbon cycle. In Part C, students apply system-thinking strategies to learn about the interconnectedness of the Earth system, feedback loops, and how changes in one part of the carbon cycle system can lead to other changes in the carbon cycle system.

    Time Estimate: 3-4 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    You will need these materials to set up the carbon reservoir stations around the room:

    Tools needed: Computer Access with Flash capability


    3. Carbon in the Atmosphere
    In Part A, students learn about the basics of infrared radiation, greenhouse gas chemistry and the greenhouse effect. In Part B, students explore how historical ice core CO2 and temperature data in combination with more current CO2 and temperature data reveals the relationship between trends in global temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels. Finally in Part C, students how individuals and families affect the carbon cycle and identify ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

    Time Estimate: 3-4 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    Tools needed: Computer access with Flash capability.



    4. Deforestation and the Carbon Cycle
    In Part A of this Lab, students learn about the impact of deforestation on the carbon cycle and investigate a mini-case study on "slash and burn" farming in Central America. In Part B, students use the Global Forest Watch mapping tool to conduct their own research on changes in forest cover.

    Time Estimate: 2-4 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    Tools needed: Computer access with Flash capability.



    5. Soil and the Carbon Cycle

    In Part A, students explore the relationship between soil and the carbon cycle by focusing on soil carbon storage and the role of microbes in decomposition and soil respiration. Then, they design and carry out an experiment to determine how temperature affects the rate of soil respiration. Finally, students investigate what ranchers are doing to create carbon-rich healthy soil, a process that has the potential to mitigate climate change. In Part B, students learn about soil respiration dynamics in permafrost, a frozen soil with the potential to further unbalance the carbon cycle if it thaws.

    Time Estimate: 3-4 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    Tools needed: Computer access with Flash capability.

    See Lab 5 "Overview and Teaching Materials" section for a more detailed list.

    Equipment:

    • Soda bottles - 20 fluid oz
    • Glass tubing -hollow 5mm diameter
    • Amber tubing - 3/16th diameter
    • Graduated cylinder
    • Thermometers - Celsius

    Materials:

    • Limewater - (CaOH)2 in solution
    • Dry top soil
    • Distilled water
    • Sugar
    • Duct tape and sissors


    6. Oceans and the Carbon Cycle

    In Part A, students will learn about the physical, chemical and biological processes that move carbon into and around the ocean with a focus on the oceanic biological pump. In Part B, students will learn about the role of phytoplankton in the ocean's uptake of carbon in greater depth by analyzing conditions and locations for its growth. They will learn about the interdependence of the nitrogen cycle and the carbon cycle and how this interdependence can influence climate.

    Time Estimate: 3-4 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    Tools needed: Computer access with Flash capability.


    7. Ocean Acidification
    In Part A, students learn about the pH and ocean carbonate chemistry of ocean acidification and examine time series evidence that our oceans are becoming more acidic. In Part B, students learn about the effect of ocean acidification on shell-building organisms such as oysters, lobsters and sea urchins. They use the Virtual Urchin lab, developed by Stanford University, to investigate the effects of a more acidic ocean pH on the ability of sea urchins to form their carbonate internal skeleton.

    Time Estimate: 2-4 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    Tools needed: Computer access with Flash capability.

    • Bromothymol blue solution
    • Drinking straws
    • Flasks, beakers or plastic cups


    8. Slowing Down an Amplifying Greenhouse Effect

    In Part A, students learn about the role that technology can play in reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. In Part B, students take on the role of a journalist, writing a blog on a promising carbon reduction technology for WIRED, a design and technology magazine. In their research, students will evaluate the pros and cons of the technology and present their findings to their class and/or others.

    Time Estimate: 1-2 50 minute class periods
    Technology: Internet browser, Flash plug-in

    Tools needed: Computer access with Flash capability.




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