Starting Point-Teaching Entry Level Geoscience > Teaching with Data > Browse Examples > Modern CO2
Explore Teaching Examples | Provide Feedback

The Modern Atmospheric CO2 Record

The lab activity described here was created by Columbia University Earth and Environmental Science Faculty. This Starting Point page was organized by Robert MacKay, Clark College.
Author Profile

This activity has been selected for inclusion in the CLEAN collection.

This activity has been extensively reviewed for inclusion in the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network's collection of educational resources. For information the process and the collection, see http://cleanet.org/clean/about/selected_by_CLEAN.

This resource received a gold-star rating from a Panel Peer Review

These materials were reviewed using face-to-face NSF-style review panel of geoscience and geoscience education experts to review groups of resources addressing a single theme. Panelists wrote reviews that addressed the criteria:

  1. scientific accuracy and currency
  2. usability and
  3. pedagogical effectiveness
Reviewers rated the resources:
  1. Accept
  2. Accept with minor revisions
  3. Accept with major revisions, or
  4. Reject.
They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 9, 2006

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students compare carbon dioxide (CO2) data from Mauna Loa Observatory , Barrow (Alaska) , and the South Pole over the past 40 years to help them better understand what controls atmospheric (CO2). This activity makes extensive use of Excel.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

Appropriate activity for an introductory course in Earth's Climate, Meteorology or Atmospheric Science, Earth Systems Science, or Environmental Science. Students are expected to use Excel spreadsheet program and the activity assumes some knowledge regarding the use of Excel. The activity does provide an Excel help link for students with no prior excel experience.

Teaching Materials

The Modern Atmospheric CO2 Record main page provides link to lab instructions, lab report format instructions, and Excel Help. The lab instructions also includes links to all required data along with other relevant resources. The sample images below compare atmospheric CO2 at Barrow (left) and South Pole (right).
[click either image to enlarge]
Barrow CO2 from CDIAC South Pole CO2 from CDIAC

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity can be used as a lab or as a homework assignment. It takes students approximately 3 hrs to complete. Smaller segments of this activity along with individual images or Quick time animations could also be used for interactive lecture discussion. Introducing basic ideas in class before the assignment is important to help students get started. Students questions related to the completion of this activity help build student interest in classroom discussion.


Online teaching materials contain student activities that can help promote student learning. These activities can also be used to help assess student understanding of key idea and concepts.

References and Resources

Chlorophyll from Sea WiFS


Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climate Change:Greenhouse effect, Paleoclimate records, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Atmospheric gases, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climate Change:Greenhouse gas emissions, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change:Paleoclimate records, Environmental Science:Global Change and Climate:Climate Change, Climate Change:Greenhouse gas emissions, Greenhouse effect, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Atmospheric structure and composition, Biology

Resource Type

Datasets and Tools:Datasets with Teaching Activities, Activities:Lab Activity

Special Interest

Data, models, or simulations:Data, Visualization, Global/National Issue, Complex Systems, Quantitative

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Quantitative Skills


Ready for Use

Ready to Use:Meets Peer Review Standard:Anonymous Peer Review, Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Climate, Earth's Cycles:Carbon Cycle, Atmosphere, Biosphere


Atmosphere, Biosphere, Climate


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Weather, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Atmospheric Science, Environmental Science

See more Browse Examples »