Carbon, Climate and Energy Resources

Initial Publication Date: January 24, 2016

Time required to complete this unit:

This page is under development and may be edited at any time. Some resources have not been cataloged, pending project approval.
3 weeks, or 12.5 hours, or 750 minutes (estimated)

Earth Science Content:

ocean-related hazards; Earth's changing climate; Earth's climate history; Earths' carbon cycle; Earth's resources; resource economics; resource careers

Unit Storyline

Humans benefit from the Earth's climate, water, and resources, such as energy producing deposits. The pursuit and development of resources, however, often may have an undesirable impact on the environment, climate stability and water quality, and may pose cultural and societal conflicts. As a result, we need to balance our need for resources that with our need for a habitable planet. The links between water, climate, and energy resources are inextricable components of the carbon cycle. This unit is built to lead students through a substantive discussion of the role of carbon in energy, water resources and climate. This activities selected introduce learners to the broad intersection of Earth Science with industry, policy, government and the needs of the human population.

Developed by the DIG Texas Blueprints Education Interns and the North Texas Development Team

Students will be able to (do)

  • Explain the global carbon cycle, including how carbon exists in different forms within the five subsystems and how these forms affect life.
  • Understand how feedback loops enhance or diminish connections.
  • Examine the various methods for removing oil and natural gas, and discuss macroscopic consequences from doing so.
  • Evaluate multiple processes used to mitigate carbon.

Students will know

  • That the geosphere continuously changes over a range of time scales involving dynamic and complex interactions among Earth's subsystems.
  • That Earth's global ocean stores solar energy and is a major driving force for weather and climate through complex atmospheric interactions.
  • That the fluid Earth is composed of the hydrosphere, cryosphere, and atmosphere subsystems that interact on various time scales with the biosphere and geosphere.
  • That interactions among Earth's five subsystems influence climate and resource availability, which affect Earth's habitability.
  • That Earth contains energy, water, mineral, and rock resources and that use of these resources impacts Earth's subsystems.


The activities we have selected are congruent with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and are arranged to build upon one another. Therefore, to follow the storyline we recommend that teachers complete the activities in the order provided. To open an activity in a new tab or window, right click the activity link and select the preferred option.

Carbon on the Move!

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EarthLabs: Lab 2B - 2C These labs take students through the multiple reservoirs of the carbon cycle, and allow them to identify how the reservoirs can be connected on both small and large scales. Students will then examine and differentiate between positive and negative feedback loops.

Instructional Strategies: Reading, Inquiry, Modeling

Resource Type: Visualization (static visualization, animation, simulation)

Time Required: 60 min

ESA21: Carbon Dioxide Calculator

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In this activity students will investigate the effect of mankind on the carbon cycle. Students will analyze day to day activities and evaluate carbon emissions. Students will make real world connections to energy needs and resource use.

Instructional Strategies: Reading, Inquiry, Challenge or problem-solving, Modeling

Resource Type: Laboratory investigation, experiment or demonstration

Time Required: 150 minutes

Stabilization Wedges: A Concept and Game

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A carbon mitigation activity from the Princeton Environmental Institute. The Stabilization Wedges Game is a team-based exercise that teaches players about the scale of the greenhouse gas problem, plus technologies that already exist to dramatically reduce our carbon emissions and get us off the path toward dramatic and damaging climate change.

Instructional Strategies: Inquiry, Jigsaw, Modeling

Resource Type: Laboratory investigation, experiment or demonstration

Time Required: 100 minutes

Switch Energy project curricula on Natural Gas, Fracking, and Carbon Capture

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Switch Energy Lab curricula is brought to you by our nonprofit partner the National Energy Education Development Project ( Used in conjunction with the Switch Energy Lab series, NEED curriculum facilitates hands-on, problem-based learning in which students explore opportunities and challenges for energy resources.

Instructional Strategies: Inquiry, Challenge or problem-solving, Modeling

Resource Type: Laboratory investigation, experiment or demonstration

Time Required: Fracking: 130 minutes; Carbon Sequestration: 100 minutes

For this unit we have selected the following activities from the above resource:

Natural Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing - Activities 11-13, pg. 68-75 on Fracking.
Time required: 130 minutes - plus apparatus assembly time for Activity 11

Carbon Capture and Sequestration - Carbon footprint (Activity 2) and Carbon sequestration partnerships (Activity 7) - a look at the intersection of science economics, industry and government
Time required: 100 minutes

Balancing the Carbon Cycle

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Students learn about the strategies and technologies used to reduce carbon. As a capstone activity, students take on the role of a blogger in order to conduct research and ultimately evaluate and review one of the carbon reduction strategies.

Instructional Strategies: Challenge or problem-solving

Resource Type: Visualization (static visualization, animation, simulation)

Time Required: 100 minutes

Global Warming Webquest

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In this Webquest activity, students assume roles of scientist, business leader, or policy maker. The students then collaborate as part of a climate action team and learn how society and the environment might be impacted by global warming. They explore the decision making process regarding issues of climate change, energy use, and available policy options. Student teams investigate how and why climate is changing and how humans may have contributed to these changes. Upon completion of their individual tasks, student teams present their findings and make recommendations that address the situation.

Instructional Strategies: Inquiry, Jigsaw, Concept mapping

Resource Type: Laboratory investigation, experiment or demonstration

Time Required: 110 minutes

Field Trips

Studies that examine how geologists think and learn about the Earth point to the value of field experiences in helping students develop practices that constitute geologic reasoning. We encourage teachers to take students into the field as much as possible. To this end, we include ideas for virtual and actual field trips. The former recognizes the limitations of the K-12 classroom setting. Field learning provides a chance to encourage the ability to see features that are important to professional practice. Indeed, many geoscientists report that fieldwork was a key factor influencing their choice of geoscience as a career.

Virtual Field Trip

All about Carbon Dioxide

Students are taken, step by step, through the carbon cycle. They also can explore the greenhouse effect and greenhouse gasses.

Scaffolding Notes

Teachers must develop their own individual plan for how they will teach the unit. The learning activities and educational resources in this unit are intended to complement other instructional activities led by the teacher. Many of the selected learning experiences provide links to excellent background preparatory materials, additional hands-on resources, teaching tips, and cross-curricular connections.

Teachers will need to create their own multimedia presentations, deliver lectures and assign ancillary work to their students in order to set the stage for effective use of the learning activities contained herein. Therefore, it is imperative to allocate time to review the activities and background material prior to using the learning experiences in this unit and to probe students for their prior knowledge before starting an activity.

In addition, although some activities may incorporate assessments, teachers may need to create their own assessments to ensure that are appropriate for the students they teach.

Asterisks (*) indicate teacher resource and background information recommendations for activity support.


The Carbon Cycle is now referenced as Carbon on the Move.

*There is also an EarthLabs App for iPad that teachers and students can downloaded to interact with the visualizations. For this unit, 2B: The Carbon Cycle is on the interactive menu. The first EarthLabs on the Carbon Cycle and Feedback loops will require about 20 minutes of preparation work by the teacher in order to make copies and cards for a hands on activity (game) that the students will play. The stabilization wedges is an intense game in which students figure out how to reduce carbon emissions. It is highly suggested that teachers print out and review the instructions in order to effectively implement the game with students. Teachers will need approximately 30 minutes to review instruction and make game pieces.

*Many of the activities from the Switch Energy Project require substantial amounts of material to be available and/or construction of specific, simple equipment (boxes, etc.) Teachers should read the materials lists in advance and allow plenty of prep time to make sure all material and equipment is ready to go before class time.

For the Switch Energy Project fracking activity student informational text on natural gas and hydraulic fracturing start on pg. 36, with the section on "What is Hydraulic Fracturing" starting on page 53. This is important foundation material for completing the activity.

The final two activities, students will need access to computers or tablets of some kind.

We recommend that teachers preview the lecture by Dr. Ken Caldeira on ocean acidification prior to using it. Teachers may need to review vocabulary contained in the lecture with their students. In addition, students should have an understanding of geologic time and be familiar with geologic time periods (e.g., Cretaceous) to fully appreciate the lecture.

In Balancing the Carbon Cycle, Lab 8: Slowing Down an Amplifying Greenhouse Effect from theEarthlabs Climate and the Carbon Cycle, students will need access to a computer in order to watch the video Carbon Capture from Lab 8A and in order to complete the research for the writing assignment in Lab 8B.

Global Warming Webquest is on the Koshland Science Museum's exhibit Global Warming: Facts and Our Future and was designed as an introduction to the complicated issues surrounding global warming and climate change. The Teacher Introduction contains suggestions as to how to implement the webquest. In addition, the site contains flow charts, worksheets and grading rubrics.

Next Generation Science Standards

We anticipate that students should be able to achieve the NGSS Performance Expectation(s) listed after completing the activities in this unit. However, we have not carried out educational research to verify this.

MS-ESS2.2: Construct an explanation on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales;

HS-ESS2.6. Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and bioshpere.

These Performance Expectations integrate the Disciplinary Core Ideas, Cross Cutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices of the NGSS as shown in the unit table NGSS Congruence: Carbon, Climate and Energy Resources (Acrobat (PDF) 181kB Jan24 16).

Additional Resources

The recommended additional resources may be used to extend or augment the storyline.

Ocean and Atmosphere: Make Convection Currents

Climate Discovery Teachers Guide Investigating Climate Present—Cycles of the Earth System: Ocean and Atmosphere Convection Currents: students understand convection currents in Earth's oceans and atmosphere.

Ocean Acidification: Consequences of Excess Carbon Dioxide in the Marine Environment

In this special lecture videoed at the Fall 2012 Meeting of the American Geophsyical Union Union (AGU), Dr. Ken Caldeira describes the consequences of excess carbon dioxide in the marine environment. Dr. Caldeira is a senior scientist at the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science.

In the News: Weather and Extreme Events

News stories about recent extreme weather events are posted to the Discovery Communications website.

Interview: Energy Choices

Dr. Scott Tinker, Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin, discusses how today's energy choices have evolved from a system based on cheap oil and coal to choices that will be based on both economic realities and environmental concerns.

Interview: Biofuels

Dr. Andrew Leakey with the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discusses a five-year, $12 million study by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop grasses that tolerate drought for use in biofuels.

Interview: Carbon Capture and Storage

Dr. Susan Hovorka of the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin discusses carbon capture and storage as a means of reducing CO2 influx to the atmosphere from hydrocarbons.

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