Carbon Cycle

The Carbon Cycle and Climate Change 

What we're looking at here is an entire ecosystem that is changing, and it's not changing in hundreds of years. It's changing in thirty to fifty years. To me this is foretelling the future across major parts of the planet. All those places we cherish are going to change. (BILL FRASER, Torgersen Island, 2006. (Montaigne 2010)

Over the past 200 years, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil have caused the concentration of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases" to increase significantly in our atmosphere. These gases prevent heat from escaping to space, somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. The levels of these gases are increasing at a faster rate than at any time in hundreds of thousands of years. If human activities continue to release greenhouse gases at or above the current rate, we will continue to increase average temperatures around the globe. Increases in global temperatures will most likely change our planet's climate in ways that will have significant long-term effects on people and the environment. CO2, is the most prevalent greenhouse gas. (EPA 2010)

This module of laboratory units allows students to explore different aspects of the Carbon Cycle. Student acitivity sheets can by found for each unit by visiting the right hand column of this page.  You can download the activitiy sheets in either the TI84+ format or the TI-nSpire format.  To view the instructional videos for each unit, please click on the links below.

Instructional Videos for the Carbon Cycle Module:

  • Introduction to the Carbon Cycle
  • Animal Respiration -- Crickets are used to study the effect of temperature on the metabolism of cold blooded organisms. You will determine how temperature affects the respiration rate of crickets by monitoring carbon dioxide production with a CO2 Gas Sensor.  
  • Respiration and Photosynthesis -- Using a CO2 Gas Sensor, you will attempt to monitor the carbon dioxide consumed or produced by plants.
  • Burning Fossil Fuel -- You will be burning a small candle in a closed container and initially measuring CO2. Then you will choose at least one other parameter to measure based on your prior research on this reaction.
  • Auto Exhaust Study -- Compare fuel economy, air pollution scores, and greenhouse gas data among various vehicles. Use a CO2 Gas Sensor to measure the amount of carbon dioxide found in the exhaust. Measure the length of time it takes to inflate a large garbage bag (40-45 gallon bag) and the size of a balloon after it is attached to the vehicle's exhaust for five seconds. Please look in the right hand column to download a template for the vehicle data table.
  • pH Changes in Water -- A pH sensor will be calibrated and used to measure the pH of solutions. We will determine the effect(s) that adding CO2 to distilled and surface water has on their pH levels.
  • Investigating CO2 Sinks -- The overall challenge is for students to find materials (both commonly occurring in nature or readily available to humans) that would act as carbon sinks.

Carbon Cycle Figure 1



Green, Tom
Montaigne, F. 2010.Fraser's Penguins: A Journey to the Future of Antartica. Henry Holt and Company
EPA, 2010
Windows on the Universe, 2010.

Special thanks to William "Tom" Green for his work on this Carbon Cycle Module.  This unit was developed under a NASA Climate Change grant awarded to Wayne RESA and Eastern Michigan University. The outcome of this two-year grant is for students and teachers to have a working understanding of the science behind global climate change and its relationship to human activity, in particular its relationship to changes on multiple scales through NASA data products and models. See the ICCARS (Investigating Climate Change and Remote Sensing website.