There is a need for physics students to learn about the causes and mechanisms of climate change. This paper presents a lab investigation that helps students develop a conceptual model of the greenhouse effect. Students begin by exploring the concepts of albedo and absorbance. Next, they develop a conceptual and computational model to represent the flows of energy in Earth’s atmosphere. By making changes to the computational model, students can come to understand how changing Earth’s albedo and modifying the absorbance properties of the atmosphere can affect Earth’s surface temperature.

Many inhabitants of the United States remain skeptical about the existence, nature, and impacts of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.1 College students, while generally aware and concerned about climate change, tend to have a poor understanding of the causes and mechanisms of global warming.2 Both climate skepticism and low levels of understanding can be addressed through education,3 including...

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