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Climate Change

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

The greenhouse effect is in the news a lot; what's the problem?

This diagram shows what happens to the Sun's energy when it hits the Earth.

Light and infrared rays from the Sun pass through the atmosphere, hit the Earth and warm it up. The warm Earth gives off infrared rays. Some of this travels back through the atmosphere, and out into space. But some of the Earth's infrared is absorbed by certain gases in the atmosphere. This retains heat around the Earth, causing the Earth to be warmer than it would be without the greenhouse effect.

The most important gases to do this are carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane. These gases are called greenhouse gases.

Planet Earth has always had a greenhouse effect; without it, nights would be a lot colder than they currently are. A small greenhouse effect is good for life on Earth.

Have humans affected the greenhouse effect?

The problem is that a lot of things humans currently do are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

We are burning more fossil fuels- to generate electricity, to make cars work, and many other reasons. Whenever we burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is released.

Large areas of forest are being chopped down- to make land for farms, towns and cities. Trees are good at removing carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis, so deforestation (removing forests) leaves more carbon dioxide in the air.

More animal farming leads to more methane being produced. Cows produce a lot of methane, because the grass they eat is difficult to digest.

Rubbish dumped in landfill sites produces methane, as microbes digest rotting food waste.

Are we sure that human activity is affecting the atmosphere?

Pretty sure. Scientists have been measuring the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere directly since the 1960's (that's the red markers on the graph below). By looking at indirect measurements and ice cores, we can work out what the levels of carbon dioxide were in the past (that's the thin line). The increase closely matches what we know about the increased use of fossil fuels.

Are we sure that human activity is affecting the climate?

Most scientists are confident that the world has got warmer in the last 100 years or so, and that increasing carbon dioxide levels are the main reason for this. There might be some other factors at work as well- there are some natural factors that change the climate, and the heat given off by buildings may make a bit of a difference in places. Because so many factors are involved, it is hard to make accurate models to explain the past and predict the future.

Before scientists publish their work, it gets checked by other scientists. This process is called peer review, and helps reduce mistakes. The most reliable, peer reviewed models show a strong link between carbon dioxide and global warming, which will get worse if carbon dioxide levels increase even more.

This is worrying- is there any hope?

Yes. If you look at the four things which are increasing greenhouse gas levels, they are all things which can be fixed. We can use different energy resources, so that less fossil fuels are burnt. We can increase the amount of forests in the world, instead of cutting trees down. Some of these things are difficult and expensive to do (and very difficult to persuade everyone to do), but the possibilities are there; and new technologies have the potential to make things better.

Pick two half-sentences to summarise the greenhouse effect.

Apart from carbon dioxide and water vapour, what is the other main greenhouse gas?

If there were no greenhouse effect at all, the Earth's average temperature would be about -18 °C. Why are people worried about the greenhouse effect at the moment? Fill in the gaps; each word is either increasing or decreasing.

Look at this graph of carbon dioxide levels over the last 500 years.

What is the percentage increase in carbon dioxide concentration between 1900 and 2000?

5 %

10 %

25 %

33 %

Think about these things that people do. Decide if they increase levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, decrease levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or leave them unchanged.

 Increase CO2Decrease CO2Unchanged CO2
Burn coal
Generate electricity using solar panels
Plant trees

What process causes both cattle and microbes to produce a greenhouse gas?

What gas is produced?

 Increase CO2Decrease CO2Unchanged CO2
Burn coal
Generate electricity using solar panels
Plant trees

If a report has been peer reviewed, what does that mean? Tick all the correct answers.

The article is more likely to be reliable.

The article has been written by an expert.

The article is definitely correct.

The article has been checked by an expert.

The article is less likely to have mistakes.

Why is it hard to model the climate of the Earth? Tick all the correct answers.

Scientists haven't done a fair test

Temperature records are incomplete.

We don't know what the atmosphere was like in the past

There are lots of factors affecting climate.

We aren't sure if carbon dioxide affects climate at all.

The climate system has some complicated feedback factors. For example, dark soil absorbs radiation, and white ice reflects radiation.

If rising temperatures cause ice to melt, what would you expect to happen next?

Temperatures to cool down.

Temperatures to stay the same.

Temperatures to rise even more.

Which of these sentences about global warming are true?

 Definitely trueProbably trueProbably untrueDefinitely untrue
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing
Global temperatures are increasing
Human activity is causing carbon dioxide to increase
Human activity is causing temperatures to increase
  • Question 1

Pick two half-sentences to summarise the greenhouse effect.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
The Sun's radiation gets though the atmosphere fine; the problem is that radiation of heat from the Earth gets trapped by the atmosphere, causing the Earth to warm up. There is an environmental problem linked to ozone, but that's another story; don't mix them up.
  • Question 2

Apart from carbon dioxide and water vapour, what is the other main greenhouse gas?

CORRECT ANSWER
methane
EDDIE SAYS
Methane is a very strong greenhouse gas, though it does break down in the atmosphere after a while.
  • Question 3

If there were no greenhouse effect at all, the Earth's average temperature would be about -18 °C. Why are people worried about the greenhouse effect at the moment? Fill in the gaps; each word is either increasing or decreasing.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
A small greenhouse effect is useful. The problem in the last few years is that there has been more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, making the greenhouse effect stronger. This links with an increase in global temperatures.
  • Question 4

Look at this graph of carbon dioxide levels over the last 500 years.

What is the percentage increase in carbon dioxide concentration between 1900 and 2000?

CORRECT ANSWER
25 %
EDDIE SAYS
In 1900, the concentration was 300 ppm; by 2000 this had increased to 400 ppm, so the increase was 100 ppm. The percentage increase is (100 ÷ 300) x 100 % = 33 %.
  • Question 5

Think about these things that people do. Decide if they increase levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, decrease levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or leave them unchanged.

CORRECT ANSWER
 Increase CO2Decrease CO2Unchanged CO2
Burn coal
Generate electricity using solar panels
Plant trees
EDDIE SAYS
This question highlights one of the problems we have to solve. At the moment, we are rapidly increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Using solar panels will slow down the increase, but ideally we want to reduce levels, which means taking CO2 out of the atmosphere; that's hard.
  • Question 6

What process causes both cattle and microbes to produce a greenhouse gas?

What gas is produced?

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Methane can be produced in various forms of digestion.
  • Question 7

If a report has been peer reviewed, what does that mean? Tick all the correct answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
The article is more likely to be reliable.
The article has been checked by an expert.
The article is less likely to have mistakes.
EDDIE SAYS
Peer review means that an expert has read the report before publication, and any problems the reviewer noticed have been dealt with. This doesn't make peer reviewed reports perfect, but it does make them more reliable than reports that haven't been reviewed like this.
  • Question 8

Why is it hard to model the climate of the Earth? Tick all the correct answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
Temperature records are incomplete.
There are lots of factors affecting climate.
EDDIE SAYS
Climate modelling is hard to do exactly- there are lots of factors to consider, and we don't have as much weather data as we would like. Although the details aren't sure, the big picture (increasing carbon dioxide raises global temperatures) seems quite likely.
  • Question 9

The climate system has some complicated feedback factors. For example, dark soil absorbs radiation, and white ice reflects radiation.

If rising temperatures cause ice to melt, what would you expect to happen next?

CORRECT ANSWER
Temperatures to rise even more.
EDDIE SAYS
A lot of biological systems show negative feedback; if your body gets too hot, you sweat and cool down again. This is an example of positive feedback. If temperatures rise enough to melt large amounts of ice, it will make the Earth less reflective, which could make temperatures rise even more. Climate has lots of positive and negative feedbacks, which is why it is hard to model.
  • Question 10

Which of these sentences about global warming are true?

CORRECT ANSWER
 Definitely trueProbably trueProbably untrueDefinitely untrue
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing
Global temperatures are increasing
Human activity is causing carbon dioxide to increase
Human activity is causing temperatures to increase
EDDIE SAYS
The first two statements are measurements, and the data are reliable enough to be sure they are correct. The statement about humans affecting carbon dioxide is also definitely correct; the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere matches industrial activity very well. The link between human CO2 and temperature is less certain, but still very likely.
---- OR ----

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