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published by the PhET
supported by the National Science Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Available Languages: English, Spanish
This free HTML5 simulation explores how greenhouse gases affect Earth's climate. Students can view levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases present during Earth's last Ice Age, in the year 1750, today, or some time in the future.....and observe how the Earth's temperature changes.  Levels of 4 greenhouse gases are displayed:  water, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.  To view the effects of albedo, add cloud cover to the sim and observe the resulting temperature changes. Use the Energy Balance tool to measure energy entering/exiting the atmosphere. Choose the tab "Glass Layers" to see what happens in an ideal greenhouse model. In the third simulation, students can adjust levels of atmospheric gases, then shoot infrared and visible photons from a photon emitter. How do the gases influence photon absorption?
This item is part of a large collection of simulations by the Physics Education Technology Project (PhET), designed using principles from physics education research and refined based on student interviews and classroom observations. Registered users can access additional teacher-created support materials and problem sets. Registration is free.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Other Sciences
- Environmental Science
- Geoscience
Thermo & Stat Mech
- First Law
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Intended Users Formats Ratings
- Learners
- Professional/Practitioners
- Educators
- application/javascript
- text/html
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Access Rights:
Free access
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Additional information is available.
Rights Holder:
University of Colorado, Physics Education Technology
climate, climate change, global warming, greenhouse effect, heat, infrared radiation, photon absorption, photon emission, thermal equilibrium, thermal radiation, thermodynamics
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created November 15, 2007 by Alea Smith
Record Updated:
January 9, 2024 by Bruce Mason
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 15, 2007
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3C. Issues in Technology
  • 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

11B. Models
  • 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.
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Record Link
AIP Format
(PhET, Boulder, 2009), WWW Document, (
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect (PhET, Boulder, 2009), <>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. (2007, November 15). Retrieved June 18, 2024, from PhET:
Chicago Format
National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: PhET, November 15, 2007. (accessed 18 June 2024).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: PhET, 2009. 15 Nov. 2007. National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 18 June 2024 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {18 June 2024}, Month = {November 15, 2007}, Year = {2009} }
Refer Export Format

%T PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect %D November 15, 2007 %I PhET %C Boulder %U %O application/javascript

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D November 15, 2007 %T PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect %I PhET %V 2024 %N 18 June 2024 %8 November 15, 2007 %9 application/javascript %U

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PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect:

Covers the Same Topic As Energy: How Does It Impact Our Lives

A multi-day module that explores the global issues of human energy consumption, and challenges students to help find solutions.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is Required By PhET Teacher Ideas: The Greenhouse Effect Lab

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?

relation by Caroline Hall

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