Lab 5: Soil and the Carbon Cycle

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

Summary and Learning Objectives

In Part A, students learn about the relationship between soil and the carbon cycle by focusing on soil carbon storage and the role of microbes in decomposition and soil respiration. They design and carry out an experiment to determine how temperature affects the rate of soil respiration. Finally, students investigate what some ranchers and farmers 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.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • Describe how carbon is stored in soil;
  • Describe the role of soil microbes, decomposition and soil respiration in transferring soil carbon from the soil to the atmosphere; and
  • Describe the possible impact of a warming climate on permafrost carbon.

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Overview and Teaching Materials

Detailed overview of what students will do in each lab activity, how long it will take, and what materials are required to complete the lab.

Printable Materials

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Teaching Notes and Tips

General recommendations for classroom implementation as well as specific recommendations for setting up the experiment in Lab 5A.

Student Notebooks

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Science Standards

Lab 5 supports following Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Additional Resources

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