In a series of posts this week, I will be sharing 5 Misconceptions in Science and providing lessons and activities to help dispel these conceptual misunderstandings. Today’s post focuses on common misconceptions in geology and meteorology. I’ve selected to highlight just a few.
Common Sources of Misconceptions
You may be asking yourself, how do misconceptions take root in the first place? Misconceptions are formed by a variety of contributing factors.
- Everyday language can cause misconceptions. For example, students may have seen their parents buy or administer “plant food” and so believe that plants need food to grow.
- Lack of evidence leads students to form mistaken conclusions. Because students cannot see germs or microscopic organic materials without a microscope, they may not grasp the concept.
- Word of mouth, the media, and speculation all spread misconceptions.
- Confusion over concepts can create wrong impressions.
Misconceptions in Geology & Meteorology
The greenhouse effect is caused when gasses in the atmosphere behave as a blanket and trap radiation which is then re-radiated to the earth.
First let me clarify that the greenhouse effect and global warming are NOT the same thing. The greenhouse effect is the name applied to the process which causes the surface of the Earth to be warmer than it would have been in the absence of an atmosphere. Global warming is the name given to an expected increase in the magnitude of the greenhouse effect, whereby the surface of the Earth will amost inevitably become hotter than it is now.
I will be discussing the greenhouse effect in this post – not global warming.
The fact that Earth has an average surface temperature comfortably between the boiling point and freezing point of water, and thus is suitable for our sort of life, cannot be explained by simply suggesting that our planet orbits at just the right distance from the sun to absorb just the right amount of solar radiation.
Parts of our atmosphere act as an insulating blanket of just the right thickness, trapping sufficient solar energy to keep the global average temperature in a pleasant range. This ‘blanket’ is a collection of atmospheric gases called ‘greenhouse gases’ based on the idea that the gases also ‘trap’ heat similarly to the glass walls of a greenhouse.
These gases, mainly water vapor ( ), carbon dioxide (), methane (), and nitrous oxide (), all act as effective global insulators. To understand why, it’s important to understand a few basic facts about solar radiation and the structure of atmospheric gases.
The following activities will help your students better understand the concepts described above.
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