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Paleontological Research Institution


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Mathematics

Resource Type

  • Videos, 4 minutes, 15 seconds, CC, Subtitles

Regional Focus



YouTube Video

Face the Trace Gas

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  • In this video, students will learn how to calculate the number of carbon dioxide molecules contained in one liter of air. 
  • The video explains that carbon dioxide is considered to be a trace gas, but it is prevalent enough to absorb a dangerous amount of infrared energy. 
Teaching Tips


  • Students will be able to visualize the number of carbon dioxide atoms in one liter and therefore better understand the rapid rate of warming occurring on Earth.
  • The video uses a simple illustration to review the concept of the greenhouse effect.

Additional Prerequisites

  • The host speaks quickly, so teachers may want to pause periodically to check for understanding.
  • The video is designed for students with high-level math skills.
  • Students should be familiar with moles, Avogadro's number, and standard temperature and pressure.


  • Math or earth science classes could look up the present carbon dioxide levels and use that to calculate the number of carbon dioxide molecules in a liter of air at this moment. Students could compare the present number with the number from when the video was produced in 2020.
  • Teachers could challenge students to use the equations from this video to calculate the concentrations of other greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, or water vapor.
  • Chemistry classes could find out more about Avogadro's number and how it allows scientists to make important measurements and calculations.
  • Other resources on this topic include this interactive graph that shows the change in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, this video that explains how humans disrupted the carbon cycle, and this video on the potential for mass carbon capture.
Scientist Notes
This resource examines what it means to be a "trace gas" and how likely it is for outgoing longwave radiation from the surface of the Earth to hit a carbon dioxide molecule (i.e. the greenhouse effect). Please note that this resource was published in July 2020 and uses an outdated carbon dioxide level. July of 2021 saw 419ppm of CO2. This resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Science
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-4. Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-5. Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.
  • Mathematics
    • Quantities (9-12)
      • M.N.Q.A.1 (F2Y) Use units as a way to understand problems and to guide the solution of multi-step problems; choose and interpret units consistently in formulas; choose and interpret the scale and the origin in graphs and data displays.
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