Lesson 1
Enhanced Greenhouse Effect

In this lesson students will construct greenhouse models. After construction students will observe, record, and compare temperatures of the different models.

Grades Levels/National Standards:

Grades 5-7 – ESS3.C – Human Impacts on Earth Eco-Systems

Background information:

The greenhouse effect is essential for life on Earth. Carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane are some of the greenhouse gases in our planet’s atmosphere. These gases absorb and re-radiate (to radiate again in the form of energy) heat. An enhanced greenhouse effect can change our global climate. Global climate changes are heavily impacted by human activity. This type of change is known as anthropogenic climate change. Climate change can have serious implications on weather patterns and sustaining living organisms as a part of our eco-system.


3 Thermometers

2 Glass jars or glass bowls

1 Wet paper towel

Sun lamp or sunny windowsill


1.  Before beginning the experiment, have a group discussion about possible implications that global climate change might have on our planet.

2.  Place 3 thermometers in a sunny spot or under a heat lamp.

3.  Read the thermometers at 20-minute intervals for an hour to be sure that all temperatures are the same.

4.  Cover one of the thermometers with a glass jar.

5.  Place the wet (room temperature) paper towel near the second thermometer and cover it with a glass jar.  The water vapor from the wet paper towel is a greenhouse gas.

6.  Leave the third thermometer, as is.

7.  Observe the thermometers at 20-minute intervals for a few hours. Record your results on a chart.

8.  Discuss the readings and summarize your findings. 

9.  Construct a graphic organizer that shows possible human roles in an enhanced greenhouse effect. 

Fast Facts:

1)  Water vapor is the most abundant, powerful and important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

2)  Ninety-five percent (95%) of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are water vapor.

3)  Water vapor does not control the Earth’s temperature, but is instead controlled by the temperature.

4)  Greenhouse gases are gases that allow direct sunlight (relative shortwave energy) to reach the Earth's surface unimpeded.

5)  Many greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and nitrous oxide, while others are man-made synthetics.

6)  Atmospheric concentrations of both the natural and man-made gases have been rising over the last few centuries due to the industrial revolution.

7)  As global population has increased and our reliance on fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas) has been firmly solidified,  emissions of these greenhouse gases have risen.

8)  While gases such as carbon dioxide occur naturally in the atmosphere, through our interference with the carbon cycle (through burning forest lands, or mining and burning coal), we artificially move carbon from solid storage to its gaseous state, thereby increasing atmospheric concentrations.

9)  An increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes the atmosphere more humid.

10)  Since water vapor is itself a greenhouse gas, the increase in humidity amplifies the warming from carbon dioxide."

Questions to Consider:

Discuss why there are differences in temperature readings of the three thermometers during the experiment.

What could be the cause and effect of the different temperatures on the Earth’s environment?

What role could cloud coverage play in each of the recording cycles?

Taking cloud coverage into consideration, how might the geographical location change the outcome of this experiment? Discuss climate and weather of different areas, (i.e. Chattanooga, Tennessee versus Seattle, Washington.)

Extension Activities:

Map greenhouse gas emissions in your area. Using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) facility level information on greenhouse gases tool, (FLIGHT) and view your state to learn about the types and amounts of gases being emitted into the earth’s atmosphere. http://ghgdata.epa.gov/ghgp/main.do

Read about Greenhouse Gases:


Calculate your Carbon footprint using the Global Warming Wheel Card


View the video, The Greenhouse Effect: Is It All Bad? 


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