Lab 4: The Carbon Cycle (Day 1)


Lab 4 Part 1

“And when it comes to planet Earth and human beings, there’s one element that is particularly important: Carbon. Life is completely dependent on carbon. I mean, I’m made of about a billion, billion, billion carbon atoms, as is every human being out there – every living thing on the planet. Imagine how many carbon atoms that is. So, where does all of that carbon come from? Well, it comes from the only place in the universe where elements are made: Stars.” –Brian Cox in Children of the Stars


As physicist Brian Cox has so dramatically described it, all of the carbon on Earth has already taken an incredible journey from distant stars to our planet. For most carbon atoms, their days of traveling weren’t over once they got here, since these atoms are constantly being moved around the Earth through the processes that make up the Carbon Cycle. This lab is concerned with the different processes comprising the Carbon Cycle, but its importance goes beyond just becoming familiar with the various ways that carbon is transformed and transported around the globe. That is because the lab also is focused on how human activity can influence those processes – and potentially influence the weather and climate on the planet.
By the end of the lab, you should have gained the knowledge needed to answer these big questions:
  • How can carbon be transferred between the atmosphere and Earth’s other spheres?
  • How would you describe changes in fossil-fuel carbon emissions from 1959 to 2010?
  • How would you describe changes in the uptake of carbon by the atmosphere, oceans, and terrestrial biosphere from 1959 to 2010?
The Carbon Cycle Prezi Presentation by Lab Instructor

Entering with the right mindset
Throughout this lab you will be asked to answer some questions. Those questions will come in three different varieties:

Fact based question →This will be a question with a rather clear-cut answer. That answer will be based on information (1) presented by your instructor, (2) found in background sections, or (3) determined by you from data, graphs, pictures, etc. There is more of an expectation of you providing a certain answer for a question of this type as compared to questions of the other types.

  Synthesis based question →  This will be a question that will require you to  pull together ideas from different places in order to give a complete answer. There is still an expectation that your answer will match up to a certain response, but you should feel comfortable in expressing your understanding of how these different ideas fit together.

Hypothesis based question → This will be a question which will require you to stretch your mind little bit. A question like this will ask you to speculate about why something is the way it is, for instance. There is not one certain answer to a question of this type. This is a more open- ended question where we will be more interested in the ideas that you propose and the justification (‘I think this because . . .’) that you provide.