The greenhouse gases occur in small amounts in the Earth's atmosphere, yet they have an important role to play in keeping the Earth’s surface warm and able to sustain life. Since the industrial revolution (about 150 years ago), human activities have led to an increase in the emission of greenhouse gases. An increase in these gases in the atmosphere means the atmosphere allows less heat to escape to space, leading to an increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s surface.

The article is based on the discussion meeting " Greenhouse gases in the Earth system" which was held on 22-23 February 2010. Talks from the meeting and a related policy report can also be downloaded from the site.

Answers to the quiz can be downloaded here.

If your students need extra help then you can give them some tips for the quiz.....

  • Q1 - answer in paragraph 1 (one century = 100 years)
  • Q2 - read the end of paragraph 1 and all of paragraph 2 to find three things that Charles Keeling did find out (the answer that is left is the one he didn't find out)
  • Q3 - answer at end of paragraph 5
  • Q4 - answer at beginning of paragraph 4
  • Q5 - answer at beginning of box "From the Royal Society's archives"
  • Q6 - answer in second paragraph of box "From the Royal Society's archives"
  • Q7 - answers in video.


Curriculum links

Data, evidence, theories and explanations 1c. how explanations of many phenomena can be developed using scientific theories, models and ideas
Communication skills 3a. recall, analyse, interpret, apply and question scientific information or ideas
Applications and implications of science
4b. to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions
4c. how uncertainties in scientific knowledge and scientific ideas change over time and about the role of the scientific community in validating these changes.
Environment, Earth and universe 8a. the effects of human activity on the environment can be assessed using living and non-living indicators

8b. the surface and the atmosphere of the Earth have changed since the Earth's origin and are changing at present


Scottish Curriculum

Science - Curriculum for Excellence level 4 SCN 4-04b Planet Earth - Energy Sources and sustainability: Through investigation, I can explain the formation and use of fossil fuels and contribute to discussions on the responsible use and conservation of finite resources.
SCN 4-05b Processes of the planet: Through exploring the carbon cycle, I can describe the processes involved in maintaining the balance of gases in the air, considering causes and implications of changes in the balance.

SCN 4-18a.
Materials - Chemical Changes: I can monitor the environment by collecting and analysing samples. I can interpret the results to inform others about levels of pollution and express a considered opinion on how science can help to protect our environment
Chemistry National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Nature's Chemistry (N4: fuel, applications of chemistry to everyday life)( N5: application of chemical knowledge to fuelling a modern society), Chemistry in Society (N4: new materials, energy sources) (N5: novel and new materials, including forms of energy generation)
Environmental Science National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Sustainability (natural resources and the impact of human activities on them,  sustainability, energy, and waste management. environmental, economic and social impacts, and identifying possible solutions, climate change and pollution). Earth's Resources (resources used in energy production, renewable and non-renewable resources and fuels)
Physics National 4 & 5 Potentially relevant to modules: Energy (sources and uses of heat energy and electrical energy in our society)
Science National 4 Potentially relevant to modules: Fragile Earth (energy resources, benefits and issues and possible solutions, how science is involved in the cause, effect and resolution of environmental issues)



Measuring greenhouse gases

Different greenhouse gases can be measured in the Earth's atmosphere. By measuring them for many years we can start to see how the amounts of different gases are changing.  A scientist called Charles David Keeling started measuring greenhouse gases at the South Pole and from a volcano in the Pacific Ocean called Mauna Loa in 1957. He discovered that the planet Earth appears to "breathe" carbon dioxide in and out over one year. Most of the plants are in the Northern Hemisphere and in spring and summer when these plants have lots of leaves, lots of carbon dioxide is "breathed in"; then in autumn and winter when leaves fall off and decompose, the planet "breathes out" as this carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere.

Go to this website to find out more about greenhouse gases. Use the information here and the short video to help you answer the quiz.


Take the quiz online here,

Or download the pdf worksheet.