In this activity, students explore the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past 40 years with an interactive online model. They use the model and observations to estimate present emission rates and emission growth rates. The model is then used to estimate future levels of carbon dioxide using different future emission scenarios. These different scenarios are then linked by students to climate model predictions also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Students consider why the observed atmospheric CO2 increase rate is only ~60% of the CO2 loading rate due to fossil fuel combustion. They develop a box-model to simulate the atmospheric CO2 increase during the industrial era and compare it to the historic observations of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. The model is then used to forecast future concentrations of atmospheric CO2 during the next century.
This lesson covers different aspects of the major greenhouse gases - water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and CFCs - including some of the ways in which human activities are affecting the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases. This is lesson six in a nine-lesson module about climate change.