Trace the cyclical movement of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere.
For example: The burning of fossil fuels contributes to the greenhouse effect.
MN Standard in lay terms:
The Earth has two main sources of energy, that from the Sun, and energy from within the Earth. This energy allows materials to move through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere in interacting cycles. Earth's carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen cycles are dependent on temperature and biological conditions. For example, the oceans of the planet are a very large sink for carbon dioxide, and colder ocean temperatures mean more carbon dioxide is soluble in the oceans; some microbes "fix" nitrogen in, on, or near the roots of plants, meaning they transform unusable atmospheric nitrogen into forms that plants may use, therefore introducing it into other reservoirs of the nitrogen cycle.
Earth Science Literacy standard 3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
3.2 - All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and mass cycling within and between Earth's systems.
MN Standard Benchmarks:
184.108.40.206.1. Trace the cyclical movement of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. For example: The burning of fossil fuels contributes to the greenhouse effect.
A quote, cartoon or video clip link directly related to the standard.
- NSES Standards:
Energy in the Earth System
Earth systems have internal and external sources of energy, both of which create heat. The sun is the major external source of energy. Two primary sources of internal energy are the decay of radioactive isotopes and the gravitational energy from the earth's original formation.
The outward transfer of earth's internal heat drives convection circulation in the mantle that propels the plates comprising earth's surface across the face of the globe.
Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth's surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and the earth's rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.
The earth is a system containing essentially a fixed amount of each stable chemical atom or element. Each element can exist in several different chemical reservoirs. Each element on earth moves among reservoirs in the solid earth, oceans, atmosphere, and organisms as part of geochemical cycles.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth's internal and external sources of energy. These movements are often accompanied by a change in the physical and chemical properties of the matter. Carbon, for example, occurs in carbonate rocks such as limestone, in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, in water as dissolved carbon dioxide, and in all organisms as complex molecules that control the chemistry of life.
The origin and evolution of the earth system
Interactions among the solid earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the earth system. We can observe some changes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions on a human time scale, but many processes such as mountain building and plate movements take place over hundreds of millions of years.
- Benchmarks of Science Literacy:
Chapter 4b: The Earth
By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that:
Transfer of thermal energy between the atmosphere and the land or oceans produces temperature gradients in the atmosphere and the oceans. Regions at different temperatures rise or sink or mix, resulting in winds and ocean currents. These winds and ocean currents, which are also affected by the earth's rotation and the shape of the land, carry thermal energy from warm to cool areas. 4B/H2*
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. 4B/H9** (SFAA)
Chapter 4c: Processes that Shape the Earth
By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that:
Plants on land and under water alter the earth's atmosphere by removing carbon dioxide from it, using the carbon to make sugars and releasing oxygen. This process is responsible for the oxygen content of the air. 4C/H1*
The outward transfer of the earth's internal heat causes regions of different temperatures and densities. The action of a gravitational force on regions of different densities causes the rise and fall of material between the earth's surface and interior, which is responsible for the movement of plates. 4C/H3*
Chapter 4e: Energy Transformations
By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that:
As energy spreads out, whether by conduction, convection, or radiation, the total amount of energy stays the same. However, since it is spread out, less can be done with it. 4E/H3*
In a fluid, regions that have different temperatures have different densities. The action of a gravitational force on regions of different densities causes them to rise or fall, creating currents that contribute to the transfer of energy. 4E/H8** (BSL)
Common Core Standards
High school (grades 9-11) Mathematics:
Algebra. Represent real-world and mathematical situations using equations and inequalities involving linear, quadratic, exponential and nth root functions. Solve equations and inequalities symbolically and graphically. Interpret solutions in the original context.
220.127.116.11 Assess the reasonableness of a solution in its given context and compare the solution to appropriate graphical or numerical estimates; interpret a solution in the original context.
Data analysis, and probability. Calculate probabilities and apply probability concepts to solve real-world and mathematical problems.
18.104.22.168 Apply probability concepts to real-world situations to make informed decisions.
High school (grades 9-12) V. Geography. B. Essential Skills: The student will use maps, globes, geographic information systems, and other databases to answer geographic questions at a variety of scales from local to global.
2. Students will make inferences and draw conclusions about the character of places based on a comparison of maps, aerial photos, and other images.
High school (grades 6-12) English Language Arts.
Standard 10: Range, quality, and complexity of student reading 6-12. Students in grades 6-12 apply the Reading standards to the following range of text types, with texts selected from a broad range of cultures and periods.
Integration of knowledge and ideas. 22.214.171.124 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, spatially, aurally, physically as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
Key ideas and details. 126.96.36.199 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to the precise details of explanations or descriptions.
Craft and structure. 188.8.131.52 Determine the meaning of symbols, equations, graphical representations, tabular representations, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.
The carbon cycle consists of photosynthesis and respiration.
The nitrogen cycle is used to provide energy for the carbon cycle.
Students believe fragments of oxygen and carbon cycle are used to create a Carbon Dioxide Cycle. This does not actually have its own cycle, but rather CO2 is created and destroyed in parts of other cycles.
Students believe the same water goes around the water cycle forever (the water you are drinking is the same water a dinosaur drank millions of years ago).
(source unknown) Students see cycles as very one dimensional and closed. e.g. animals breathe out CO2, plants take it in, animals eat plants this completes the cycle.
Mrs. H needs to address standard 184.108.40.206 in her high school environmental science class. She wants to incorporate both hands-on chemistry-related activities regrading cycling, as well as technology-based applications. To begin, she engages her students with the hands-on, 5-part activity about carbon dioxide sources and sinks from the Windows2Universe site; four of the five activities are suitable for her students to complete during lab, the fifth part, she decides to show as a demonstration in class. She devotes two lab class periods to working through the activities: detecting CO2 gas, determining if plants and/or animals are sources of CO2, and whether or not plants take up CO2.
An examination of her classroom on October 15, reveals one group of students using a straw to carefully blow into a test tube filled with a bromthymol blue (BTB) solution; the students are excited as they witness the bluish solution turning yellow (as a result of the introduction of CO2). Another group of students is adding sprigs of Elodea leaves into a test tube of BTB solution, and postulating an explanation of why they believe the solution will turn color or not (after sitting overnight). Another small group of students is talking to Mrs. H, asking what they should do when they're done; Mrs. H responds by writing the URL address to a carbon cycle web page (by Harrison) on the chalkboard. Mrs. H instructs the students to check out the site, read the information, and then check their understanding by taking the interactive self-test. Several days later, students are in the computer lab using a spreadsheet to investigate carbon data for their region as they work through the Understanding carbon storage in forests Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter. As Mrs. H glances around the classroom, she notices that the class is on task and engaged by the use of technology to study to the carbon storage issue.
Have students create a pictorial presentation of the carbon cycle using power point or similar media. Could be used to assess student understanding of cycles and their ability to demonstrate understanding with pictures and photographs with a public presentation. See the vignette for examples.
This links accesses a 5-part guided-inquiry activity, where students test for the presence of carbon dioxide, suitable for grades 7-10. Some parts of the activity may be completed as teacher demonstrations. (220.127.116.11.1)
Earth Exploration Toolbook activity designed to engage students in learning about the movement of carbon, particularly as it is taken up in trees. The activity considers the global carbon cycle, and what forests have to do with global warming. TThe activity is designed for grades 9-12 and follows a step-by-step approach. (18.104.22.168.1)
The activity examines factors that affect local environment. The activity may be adapted for use in a teacher's own state, but the original activity was designed to consider Pennsylvania. Hands-on activity directions, student sheets, and more are provided. (22.214.171.124.1)
This informational module about the carbon cycle could be used to extend beyond the textbook (or in place of it). It includes short quizzes based on the readings that may be used for students to self-check their understanding. It includes links to additional resources, and is available in English and Spanish. (126.96.36.199.1)
The activity found at the link is designed for grades 7-8, but could be adapted for either a teacher demonstration or in-class activity for high school grade students. The kit includes: hands-on activities, experiments, simulation game, article analysis and more, all related to the global warming issue. Information about the Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) kit is found at the link, and the kit may be purchased for $31.00. (188.8.131.52.1)
A useful web page from NASA that may be used by teachers to explain about the carbon cycle; addresses role of the oceans, atmosphere, and more. It could also serve as a resource for students who may be working on research papers/projects. (184.108.40.206.1)
A useful web page from NASA's Earth Observatory that may be used by teachers to explain about the carbon cycle; addresses role of the oceans, atmosphere, and more. The site contains links to specific pages about each specific component of the carbon cycle. It could also serve as a resource for students who may be working on research papers/projects. (220.127.116.11.1)
This informational module about the oxygen and water cycles could be used to extend beyond the textbook (or in place of it). It includes short quizzes based on the readings that may be used for students to self-check their understanding. It includes links to additional resources, and is available in English and Spanish. (18.104.22.168.1)
This informational module about the nitrogen cycle could be used to extend beyond the textbook (or in place of it). It includes short quizzes based on the readings that may be used for students to self-check their understanding. It includes links to additional resources, and is available in English and Spanish. (22.214.171.124.1)
This informational module about the nitrogen cycle could be used to extend beyond the textbook (or in place of it). It includes short quizzes based on the readings that may be used for students to self-check their understanding. (126.96.36.199.1)
Earth's biosphere is affected by, and part of, the natural cycles of the Earth. The site provides information suitable for explaining the biosphere to students and/or teachers, and includes a Quicktime animation about photosynthesis. (188.8.131.52.1)
Additional resources or links:
A number of activities suitable for high school students is provided at the link.
Many of them utilize technology, and a narrow site search can be conducted.
A great textbook for reviewing science concepts (for teachers), or a useful resource for students completing research reports/projects.
Withgott, J. (2011). Environment science [high school textbook]. Boston, MA: Pearson.
A high school environmental science textbook that is a good resource for teachers and students. Teachers may obtain background information, and students may use the text as a resource when researching.
- Carbon cycle = "the cycle a carbon molecule may undergo in an ecosystem. For example, it may start in the atmosphere, be taken in by a produce, then a [sic] eaten by a consumer. When the consumer dies, it is broken down by a decomposer, at which point the carbon molecule is released back into the atmosphere" [glossary term from: Trefil & Hazen, The Sciences: An integrated approach (6th ed.). Wiley.]
- Oxygen cycle = cycle of movement of oxygen through the components of the Earth system: atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere; primarily driven by photosynthesis.
- Nitrogen cycle = the cycle of movement of nitrogen through the components of the Earth system: atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.
- nitrogen fixation = process whereby nitrogen gas is converted into usable nitrogen compounds that plants could absorb.
- hydrosphere = "all of the water -- salt water and fresh water, in the form of liquid, ice, or vapor -- above and below Earth's surface and in the atmosphere" [glossary definition from: Withgott, J. (2011). Environment science. Boston, MA: Pearson]
- lithosphere = "sphere of Earth made up of the hard rock on and just below Earth's surface; the outermost layer of both Earth and its geosphere" [glossary definition from: Withgott, J. (2011). Environment science. Boston, MA: Pearson]
- atmosphere = layer of gases surrounding the Earth
- biosphere = "the Earth and all of its organisms and environments" [glossary definition from: Withgott, J. (2011). Environment science. Boston, MA: Pearson]
- biogeochemical cycles = also known as a nutrient cycle; describes a pathway through which chemical elements move through both living and nonliving components of the earth system (i.e., the various "spheres" -- atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere).
- sun = ultimate source of energy for the Earth's systems
Cycles of the movement of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and others, tie well to chemistry when considering how the compounds each element is part of may change.
The cycles of nitrogen, carbon, and oxygen related well to biology when considering nitrogen fixation by microbes, the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen via photosynthesis (and vice versa for respiration), and the elements as limiting factors to growth and survival.
How changes in energy affect the carbon cycle relate to the Earth's radiation budget and physics; also, with respect to changes in solar output (also ties to physics).
Examining closed systems, like Earth's (or small scale examples), make it possible to connect to mathematics: inputs and outputs of energy such as Earth's radiation budget (based on 100%).
Structure and Properties of Matter
Carbon atoms can bond to one another in chains, rings, and branching networks to form a variety of structures, including synthetic polymers, oils, and the large molecules essential to life.
Chemical reactions may release or consume energy. Some reactions such as the burning of fossil fuels release large amounts of energy by losing heat and by emitting light. Light can initiate many chemical reactions such as photosynthesis and the evolution of urban smog.
Conservation of Energy and the Increase in Disorder
Everything tends to become less organized and less orderly over time. Thus, in all energy transfers, the overall effect is that the energy is spread out uniformly. Examples are the transfer of energy from hotter to cooler objects by conduction, radiation, or convection and the warming of our surroundings when we burn fuels.
Plant cells contain chloroplasts, the site of photosynthesis. Plants and many microorganisms use solar energy to combine molecules of carbon dioxide and water into complex, energy rich organic compounds and release oxygen to the environment. This process of photosynthesis provides a vital connection between the sun and the energy needs of living systems.
The Interdependence of Organisms
The atoms and molecules on the earth cycle among the living and nonliving components of the biosphere.
Matter, Energy, and Organization in Living Systems
The energy for life primarily derives from the sun. Plants capture energy by absorbing light and using it to form strong (covalent) chemical bonds between the atoms of carbon-containing (organic) molecules. These molecules can be used to assemble larger molecules with biological activity (including proteins, DNA, sugars, and fats). In addition, the energy stored in bonds between the atoms (chemical energy) can be used as sources of energy for life processes.
As matter and energy flows through different levels of organization of living systems - cells, organs, organisms, communities - and between living systems and the physical environment, chemical elements are recombined in different ways. Each recombination results in storage and dissipation of energy into the environment as heat. Matter and energy are conserved in each change.
Withgott, J. (2011). Environment science [high school textbook]. Boston, MA: Pearson. [Chapter 3, p. 94, Short Answer question 25, and "Critical Thinking" question 29, 30; answers from the Answer Key at back of Teacher's edition.]
1. Describe two ways in which Earth's biosphere and atmosphere interact.
Sample answer: The gases used and expelled by organisms in the biosphere affect the composition of gases in the atmosphere. In turn, the gases in the atmosphere protect and support the organisms of the biosphere [i.e., carbon and oxygen cycles].
2. Briefly describe the water cycle using the terms evaporation, transpiration, condensation, and precipitation.
Evaporation and transpiration add water vapor to the atmosphere. When the water vapor cools, it becomes liquid again by the process of condensation, and it then falls as precipitation.
3. How is understanding the law of conservation of matter important to understanding the biogeochemical cyles?
Until you understand that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, you cannot understand that all the parts of each cycle are interlinked.
Teachers: 3 questions designed to probe teachers understanding of concepts.
Withgott, J. (2011). Environment science [high school textbook]. Boston, MA: Pearson. [Chapter 3, p. 86, "Review Key Concepts" questions 3b and 5; and, p. 92, end-of-chapter "Assessment" question 31; answers from the Answer Key in the wrap-around Teacher's edition.]
1. Based on your knowledge of the carbon cycle, what do you think might happen if humans were to continue to clear and burn vast areas of forests for building?
If vast amounts of forests are cleared and burned, levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide will likely increase.
2. Describe how oxygen, although it does not have an independent cycle, moves through the biosphere as part of the carbon cycle. Include a description of the various forms that oxygen takes.
Oxygen is a component of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. During the process of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is taken up and atmospheric oxygen is released. During cellular respiration, oxygen is combined with carbon and released in the form of carbon dioxide. Oxygen is also found in calcium carbonate, which is a part of animal skeletons and some rocks.
3. Describe how the biogeochemical cycles provide organisms with the raw materials necessary to synthesize complex organic compounds. [question modified]
Organic compounds, such as proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids, and fats, contain elements such as carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Atoms of these elements must be available to organisms, or organic compounds cannot be synthesized. The carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles move these atoms through ecosystems, making them available to living things.
A visiting administrator might see students engaged in hands-on experimentation such as the carbon dioxide sources and sinks activity; for example, students may be testing for the presence of carbon dioxide in different solutions, representative of various reservoirs in the carbon cycle. Administrators might also see classes in the computer lab working through online simulations or activities; for example, students learning about carbon storage by forests with the Understanding carbon storage in forests activity.
Struggling and At-Risk:
Engaging struggling students is critical. Regarding this standard, many hands-on activities (e.g., carbon dioxide sources and sinks) are possible that would be useful for motivating students. Similarly, the topic of cycles relates well to the global climate change issue, and common human impacts on the Earth may be discussed (including considering how students are contributing to the problem or a solution).
Teachers may wish to use the web site Carbon dioxide cycle: what goes around comes around as a resources for students who may be Spanish-speaking, as the site includes text in both English and Spanish. [There are also other links at this site that may also be in Spanish.] Or, teachers may ask English Language Learners to pronounce English terms related to the carbon cycle.
For details, see:
According to Lee & Buxton (2010), a couple of approaches are useful for assisting English Language Learners (ELLs): teach content while fostering language development and draw on the so-called "funds of knowledge", which are students' personal experiences from home or community. For additional details on this see the original NSTA News posting and the official NSTA position statement.
Lee, O., & Buxton, C.A. (2010, April). NSTA Report: Teaching science to English language learners.
Differentiate assessment tools. Assessment does not always have to occur in a standardized format. Consider using alternative assessments, such as:
written opinions supported by data
multimedia projects that target students with different learning preferences
There are many sources and sinks associated with the various cycles (e.g., carbon cycle). Use this fact as a way to allow students to examine exotic or foreign areas via web research. For example, coral reefs represent part of the carbon cycle, and are under close scrutiny by scientists for climate change impacts; if you have students from Australia, this would provide an opportunity to engage the student and allow the entire class to learn more about the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and the people living there (e.g., aboriginal peoples and others).