Carbon Cycle

The Carbon Cycle and Climate Change
Author -- Tom Green

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 series of activities allows students to explore different aspects of the Carbon Cycle (See Figure 1). Emphasis is on anthropogenic influences on this cycle.


The activities are included in a suggested order.  All of the activities are available as Word documents or pdf's.  You can access these documents by clicking HERE.  All activities are available as instructional videos online.  To view the instructional videos for the Carbon Cycle activities, please click HERE if you have a computer with flash, or If you are on a mobile device, without flash, please click HERE.

1.  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.  

2.   Plant Respiration and Photosynthesis 
Using a CO2 Gas Sensor, you will attempt to monitor the carbon dioxide consumed or produced by plants. 

3.  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. 

4.  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 click HERE  to download a template for the vehicle data table.

5.  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.

6.  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.

To learn more about the Carbon Cycle, please click HERE and read the web-article provided by the Earth Observatory.  The web-based article includes an introduction; the slow carbon cycle; the fast carbon cycle; changes in the carbon cycle; effects of changing the carbon cycle; and studying the carbon cycle. 

ICCARS Project teachers are able to check out the following equipment to conduct the experiments:
Calculator, CBL, and Probe Kits -- Each kit includes:  8 TI-84's; 8 CBL's; and 8 each of the following probes -- Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, pH, Temperature, and Relative Humidity (2 kits are available).  
Probe Kits -- Each kit includes 8 each of the following probes -- Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, ph, Temperature, and Relative Humidity. 
Kits can be checked out for two weeks at a time.  When Project teachers select their dates, they will appear on the ICCARS Calendar.  To check out materials, please email David Bydlowski at:

Green, Tom. 

Montaigne, F. 2010.Fraser’s Penguins: A Journey to the Future of Antartica.  Henry Holt and Company

Riebeek, Hollie.  Earth Observatory - -- June 16, 2011.

EPA, 2010. 
Windows on the Universe, 2010. 

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.