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How Greenhouse Gases Absorb Heat

Source Institutions

    American Museum of Natural History

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How Greenhouse Gases Absorb Heat

Learners observe two model atmospheres -- one with normal atmospheric composition and another with an elevated concentration of carbon dioxide. These two model atmospheres are exposed to light energy from a sunny window or from a lamp. This activity will help learners understand that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb and hold heat, relating to global warming and climate change.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Student worksheets
  • 15 ml of Bromothymol Blue (BTB), an indicator for acid and carbon dioxide
  • 1 small beaker or jar
  • 2 large jars with lids
  • 2 pieces of black construction paper of equal size to place inside the jars
  • 2 thermometers to place inside the jars
  • 1 Erlenmeyer flask (250-500 ml)
  • 1 one hole stopper for above flask
  • 1 straight piece of glass tubing
  • 1 50cm piece of flexible tubing (aquarium air tubing works fine)
  • 100 ml of vinegar
  • 4 heaping teaspoons of baking soda
  • watches or classroom clock to time readings
  • lamp with 100 watt bulb or sunny window sill


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Processes
      • Weather and Climate
    • Earth Structure
      • Atmosphere
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Human Impact
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Measurement
      • Rate
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
      • Heat Transfer
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
      • Acids and Bases
    • States of Matter
      • Gases
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science and Society
      • Risks and Benefits
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment

Informal Categories

  • Model Building
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Uses STEM to solve real-world problems
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, American Museum of Natural History, ©2008


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