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published by the Physics Education Technology Project
supported by the National Science Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Available Languages: English, Spanish
This applet lets you explore how greenhouse gases change the climate.  You can select the level of atmospheric greenhouse gases during an ice age, in the year 1750, today, or some time in the future and see how the Earth's temperature changes.  You can also add clouds.

This is part of a larger collection developed by the Physics Education Technology project (PhET).

Please note that this resource requires at least version 1.5 of Java Applet Plug-in.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- First Law
Motion, Forces, and Energy
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Other Sciences
- Environmental Science
- Geoscience
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Intended Users Formats Ratings
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- application/java
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Additional Information
Physics To Go This resource was a Physics To Go feature from May 1, 2013 until May 16, 2013. View the feature here!

Access Rights: Free access
License: This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Additional information is available.
Rights Holder: University of Colorado, Physics Education Technology
Keywords: climate, climate change, global warming, greenhouse effect, heat, infrared radiation, photon absorption, photon emission, thermal radiation, thermodynamics
Record Cloner: Metadata instance created November 15, 2007 by Alea Smith
Record Updated: May 03, 2013 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 15, 2007
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3C. Issues in Technology
  • 9-12: 3C/H4. The human species has a major impact on other species in many ways: reducing the amount of the earth's surface available to those other species, interfering with their food sources, changing the temperature and chemical composition of their habitats, introducing foreign species into their ecosystems, and altering organisms directly through selective breeding and genetic engineering.
  • 9-12: 3C/H5. Human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence.

4. The Physical Setting

4B. The Earth
  • 9-12: 4B/H4. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, are transparent to much of the incoming sunlight but not to the infrared light from the warmed surface of the earth. When greenhouse gases increase, more thermal energy is trapped in the atmosphere, and the temperature of the earth increases the light energy radiated into space until it again equals the light energy absorbed from the sun.
  • 9-12: 4B/H6. The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
  • 9-12: 4B/H9. Although the earth has a great capacity to absorb and recycle materials naturally, ecosystems have only a finite capacity to withstand change without experiencing major ecological alterations that may also have adverse effects on human activities.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 6-8: 4E/M3. Thermal energy is transferred through a material by the collisions of atoms within the material. Over time, the thermal energy tends to spread out through a material and from one material to another if they are in contact. Thermal energy can also be transferred by means of currents in air, water, or other fluids. In addition, some thermal energy in all materials is transformed into light energy and radiated into the environment by electromagnetic waves; that light energy can be transformed back into thermal energy when the electromagnetic waves strike another material. As a result, a material tends to cool down unless some other form of energy is converted to thermal energy in the material.
  • 6-8: 4E/M6. Light and other electromagnetic waves can warm objects. How much an object's temperature increases depends on how intense the light striking its surface is, how long the light shines on the object, and how much of the light is absorbed.

8. The Designed World

8C. Energy Sources and Use
  • 6-8: 8C/M5. Energy from the sun (and the wind and water energy derived from it) is available indefinitely. Because the transfer of energy from these resources is weak and variable, systems are needed to collect and concentrate the energy.
  • 6-8: 8C/M11. By burning fuels, people are releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and transforming chemical energy into thermal energy which spreads throughout the environment.
  • 9-12: 8C/H6. The useful energy output of a device—that is, what energy is available for further change—is always less than the energy input, with the difference usually appearing as thermal energy. One goal in the design of such devices is to make them as efficient as possible—that is, to maximize the useful output for a given input.
  • 9-12: 8C/H7. During any transformation of energy, there is inevitably some dissipation of energy into the environment. In this practical sense, energy gets "used up," even though it is still around somewhere.
  • 9-12: 8C/H8. Sunlight is the ultimate source of most of the energy we use. The energy in fossil fuels such as oil and coal comes from energy that plants captured from the sun long ago.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.

12. Habits of Mind

12A. Values and Attitudes
  • 9-12: 12A/H2. View science and technology thoughtfully, being neither categorically antagonistic nor uncritically positive.
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(Physics Education Technology Project, Boulder, 2009), WWW Document, (
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect, (Physics Education Technology Project, Boulder, 2009), <>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. (2007, November 15). Retrieved May 3, 2016, from Physics Education Technology Project:
Chicago Format
National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: Physics Education Technology Project, November 15, 2007. (accessed 3 May 2016).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect. Boulder: Physics Education Technology Project, 2009. 15 Nov. 2007. National Science Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. 3 May 2016 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect}, Publisher = {Physics Education Technology Project}, Volume = {2016}, Number = {3 May 2016}, Month = {November 15, 2007}, Year = {2009} }
Refer Export Format

%T PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect
%D November 15, 2007
%I Physics Education Technology Project
%C Boulder
%O application/java

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D November 15, 2007
%T PhET Simulation: The Greenhouse Effect
%I Physics Education Technology Project
%V 2016
%N 3 May 2016
%8 November 15, 2007
%9 application/java

Disclaimer: ComPADRE offers citation styles as a guide only. We cannot offer interpretations about citations as this is an automated procedure. Please refer to the style manuals in the Citation Source Information area for clarifications.

Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Electronic References.

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