Discussion Questions and Activities for Buried Sunlight

Discussion Questions

For all students:

  1. How did tiny green plants that lived in the sea billions of years ago change Earth forever?
  2. How are oil and coal made? What is the origin of the energy stored in these substances?
  3. How long did it take for fossil fuels to form? How long have we been burning them? Does this matter, and if so, why does it matter?

For older students:

  1. There has been a tiny imbalance in the cycle of life over the history of Earth. How has this made a big difference in our atmosphere, and how has that changed the whole planet?
  2. How is burning fossil fuels similar to the respiration of animals? How is it different?
  3. How is the buildup of carbon dioxide in our air over only two hundred years changing the whole Earth now?
  4. How is the planet likely to change if we continue to burn fossil fuels, and what measures might we take to slow these changes?
  5. Our planet is always changing—even without human influence. How is the buildup of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere different from the “pre-human” changes?
  6. The questions above can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards R.1,2,3,4,7,8,10; SL.1,2

The Greenhouse Effect
Adding CO2 to air raises its temperature in the presence of light energy. A number of lesson plans demonstrating the greenhouse effect can be found on the internet simply by searching with the key words “greenhouse effect demonstration.” One of these can be found here: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/jetstream/atmos/ll_gas.htm and an adaptation of this lesson can be found below. Before preforming the experiment discuss with your students what they think might happen, and afterwards, discuss what did happen and why it happened, based on what they know from the book and from other research.


  1. Fill two clear one-liter bottles halfway with water. Put a stopper with a thermometer through the middle in one, so the recording end is suspended in the air of the bottle. Record the temperature of the air in the bottle.
  2. Drop 2-3 Alka-Seltzer tablets into the other bottle and watch it fizz. The fizz is made of bubbles of carbon dioxide (CO2) which break as they rise into the air, filling the air with CO2.
  3. Put the stopper and thermometer into the hole and measure the temperature of the air in this bottle.
  4. Turn on a lamp or leave both bottles in the hot sun, making sure both bottles are the same distance from the light source.
  5. At the end of an hour, check the temperatures in both bottles. The temperature in the bottle with the added CO2 should be considerably higher than the one without.

A video demonstration can be found here:

A more complex demonstration can be found here: http://cleanet.org/clean/community/activities/c2.html

This activity can help meet Common Core Anchor Standards W.7,8; SL.1,4

C-MORE Education and Outreach
Games, quizzes, activity kits and other resources for teachers from the NSF Center for Microbial Oceanography Research and Education.

Whyville Plankton Lab
Students can create an avatar and research plankton within Whyville!

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