Energy and Science Projects
For Students

Recreating the Greenhouse Effect


The Earth's climate has changed many times in the past. Subtropical forests have spread from the south into more temperate (or milder, cooler climates) areas. Millions of years later, ice sheets spread from the north covering much of the northern United States, Europe and Asia with great glaciers. Today, some scientists believe human beings are changing the climate. How can that be?

Over the past few centuries, people have been burning more amounts of fuels such as wood, coal, oil, natural gas and gasoline. The gases formed by the burning, such as carbon dioxide, are building up in the atmosphere. They act like greenhouse glass. The result some experts believe is the Earth heating up and undergoing global warming. How can you show the greenhouse effect?

What You'll Need

What to Do

  1. Take two identical glass jars each containing 2 cups of cold water.
  2. Add 5 ice cubes to each jar.
  3. Wrap one in a plastic bag (this is the greenhouse glass).
  4. Leave both jars in the sun for one hour.
  5. Measure the temperature of the water in each jar.

Which is warmer?

In bright sunshine, the air inside a greenhouse becomes warm. The greenhouse glass lets in the sun's light energy and some of its heat energy. This heat builds up inside the greenhouse. You just showed a small greenhouse effect. What could happen if this greenhouse effect changed the Earth's climate?

Another version of a greenhouse is what happens inside an automobile parked in the sun. The sun's light and heat gets into the vehicle and is trapped inside, like the plastic bag around the jar. The temperature inside a car can get over 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).

This Energy Education Project comes from the California Energy Commission
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