Decoding Ice: A Novel and Economical Method by which Non-Science Majors/Secondary Students Measure the Atmospheric CO2 of Ea


Rus Higley

Faculty Mentor(s)


Global Climate Change tends to be incompletely understood or misunderstood by non-scientists, and effectively teaching about this phenomenon is a concern of educators at the secondary level and at the non-science major undergraduate level. One key idea is that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is the major driver of this process. We are developing a conceptually simple hands on demonstration in which students measure contemporary levels of atmospheric CO2 and compare this to the CO2 level in air trapped in glacial ice ≈ 10,000 – 20,000 years ago. The majority of the classrooms for which this activity is appropriate will be subject to budgetary constraints for equipment and are unlikely to have access to a mass spectrometer. Thus our challenge is to inexpensively detect the CO2 levels of a small (20 ml – 100ml) volume of gas. Our projected range of CO2 levels is 50 – 450 ppm, and we desire accuracy within plus or minus 25 ppm. This presentation documents and discusses our initial methodological approaches, our successes and challenges, results thus far, and some projected new methodologies for improving accuracy of CO2 measurement technique in the absence of mass spectrometry equipment.


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