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EDS 1021

Week 8 Interactive Activity

Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect



Using a simulation, apply the scientific method to investigate the atmospheric greenhouse effect and its role in atmospheric energy transfer.

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Background Reading

Before attempting the activity, review “The Greenhouse Effect” in Chapter 19 of The Sciences, as well as the website Global Climate Change (NASA), to gain some background on the atmospheric greenhouse effect and its role in both atmospheric warming and climate change. The video NASA’s Earth Minute: Gas Problem (YouTube, 1:24) provides a short descriptive summary of the important points.

Introduction to the Simulation

1. After completing the background reading for this assignment, go to “The Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect” simulation on the PhET simulations website at: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/legacy/greenhouse. Click the play arrow on the simulation graphic to run the web-based simulation or click DOWNLOAD to run the simulation locally on your device.

Simulation requirements: This interactive simulation is optimized for use on computers (MACs or PCs) and may not run on some tablets, notebooks, cell phones, or other devices. Running the simulation will require an updated version of  Java  software (free). If you do not or are not sure if you have Java on your computer, go to  the Java Website . If you cannot get the simulation to run, consult The PhET Simulation Troubleshooting Guide on the course website.

2. Explore and experiment on the three different tabs (areas) of the simulation. While experimenting, think about how the energy transfer processes involved in the atmospheric greenhouse effect are being visualized in the simulation.

Greenhouse effect tab – Observe the effects of greenhouse gases on both incoming (solar) radiation and outgoing terrestrial (infrared) radiation and atmospheric temperature. Yellow stars simulate photons of incoming solar energy (visible radiation), while red stars simulate photons of outgoing terrestrial energy emitted from Earth’s surface (infrared radiation). The term photon describes a “packet” of electromagnetic radiation. You can simulate atmospheres with different concentrations of greenhouse gases at different times in Earth’s history, or manually adjust the concentration of greenhouse gases, and observe the effect on atmospheric temperature. Clouds may also be virtually placed in the atmosphere to observe their effects on air temperature.


Glass layers tab – Create a “greenhouse” by adding glass panes to the atmosphere and observing the effect of a virtual glass ceiling on atmospheric temperature.


Photon absorption tab –Experiment to determine the preference of different atmospheric gas molecules to absorb a certain type of radiation by shooting infrared or visible radiation at the molecules.


3. After getting oriented to the simulation, follow the steps below to perform four different experiments. Before beginning, be prepared to write down hypotheses and observations for the experiments.



Experiment 1: The Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect and Temperatures Through History

In this experiment, you will observe the atmospheric greenhouse effect and how different concentrations of greenhouse gases at different times in Earth’s history affected atmospheric temperature.

Before completing the experiment, write down a hypothesis, based on your current understanding, that predicts the correlation between the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and atmospheric temperature.

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