the National Science Foundation and
the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Available Languages: English, Spanish
This simulation explores how greenhouse gases effect the climate. The user can select the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases during an ice age, in the year 1750, today, or some time in the future and see how the Earth's temperature changes. Levels of four greenhouse gases are displayed: water, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Users may opt to add cloud cover to the simulation to observe the resulting temperature changes. In a second simulation, the Greenhouse Effect caused by glass is illustrated.
This item is part of a growing collection of simulations by the Physics Education Technology Project (PhET). Simulations were designed using principles from physics education research and refined based on student interviews and classroom observations.
Please note that this resource requires
at least version 1.5 of
Java Applet Plug-in.
9-12: 3C/H4. The human species has a major impact on other species in many ways: reducing the amount of the earth's surface available to those other species, interfering with their food sources, changing the temperature and chemical composition of their habitats, introducing foreign species into their ecosystems, and altering organisms directly through selective breeding and genetic engineering.
9-12: 3C/H5. Human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence.
4. The Physical Setting
4B. The Earth
9-12: 4B/H4. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, are transparent to much of the incoming sunlight but not to the infrared light from the warmed surface of the earth. When greenhouse gases increase, more thermal energy is trapped in the atmosphere, and the temperature of the earth increases the light energy radiated into space until it again equals the light energy absorbed from the sun.
9-12: 4B/H6. The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
9-12: 4B/H9. Although the earth has a great capacity to absorb and recycle materials naturally, ecosystems have only a finite capacity to withstand change without experiencing major ecological alterations that may also have adverse effects on human activities.
4E. Energy Transformations
6-8: 4E/M3. Thermal energy is transferred through a material by the collisions of atoms within the material. Over time, the thermal energy tends to spread out through a material and from one material to another if they are in contact. Thermal energy can also be transferred by means of currents in air, water, or other fluids. In addition, some thermal energy in all materials is transformed into light energy and radiated into the environment by electromagnetic waves; that light energy can be transformed back into thermal energy when the electromagnetic waves strike another material. As a result, a material tends to cool down unless some other form of energy is converted to thermal energy in the material.
6-8: 4E/M6. Light and other electromagnetic waves can warm objects. How much an object's temperature increases depends on how intense the light striking its surface is, how long the light shines on the object, and how much of the light is absorbed.
8. The Designed World
8C. Energy Sources and Use
6-8: 8C/M5. Energy from the sun (and the wind and water energy derived from it) is available indefinitely. Because the transfer of energy from these resources is weak and variable, systems are needed to collect and concentrate the energy.
6-8: 8C/M11. By burning fuels, people are releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and transforming chemical energy into thermal energy which spreads throughout the environment.
9-12: 8C/H6. The useful energy output of a device—that is, what energy is available for further change—is always less than the energy input, with the difference usually appearing as thermal energy. One goal in the design of such devices is to make them as efficient as possible—that is, to maximize the useful output for a given input.
9-12: 8C/H7. During any transformation of energy, there is inevitably some dissipation of energy into the environment. In this practical sense, energy gets "used up," even though it is still around somewhere.
9-12: 8C/H8. Sunlight is the ultimate source of most of the energy we use. The energy in fossil fuels such as oil and coal comes from energy that plants captured from the sun long ago.
11. Common Themes
6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
12. Habits of Mind
12A. Values and Attitudes
9-12: 12A/H2. View science and technology thoughtfully, being neither categorically antagonistic nor uncritically positive.
<a href="https://psrc.aapt.org/items/detail.cfm?ID=6099">National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: PhET, November 15, 2007.</a>
National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: PhET, November 15, 2007. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/greenhouse (accessed 20 June 2021).
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: PhET, 2009. 15 Nov. 2007. National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 20 June 2021 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/greenhouse>.
%0 Electronic Source %D November 15, 2007 %T PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect %I PhET %V 2021 %N 20 June 2021 %8 November 15, 2007 %9 application/java %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/greenhouse
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An editor-recommended lab for high school created for use with the simulation Greenhouse Effect. The experimental question: Which atmospheric gas -- methane, water, carbon dioxide, oxygen, or nitrogen -- is the best absorber of infrared photons?