Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Conceptions of Atmospheric Carbon Budgets: Undergraduate Students' Perceptions of Mass Balance

Academic journal article Journal of Geoscience Education

Conceptions of Atmospheric Carbon Budgets: Undergraduate Students' Perceptions of Mass Balance

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The rationale for this study developed out of one coauthor's consistent observations of introductory meteorology students' poor performance on an assignment investigating the relationship between atmospheric radiation balance and temperature. Many students assumed the hottest time of day corresponded with the period of strongest solar radiation (noon) instead of thinking about the balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation emitted by the Earth. Stock-flow (or budget) systems such as the one above, in which the balance of the inflow and outflow rates of that system controls the level of a stock, are a source of confusion and misunderstanding for many U.S. college students (Gonzalez and Wong, 2011). Many people have been found to apply a simplistic model in interpreting such budget systems, in which they assume a direct match between the inflow rate and the overall stock level, a conception referred to in the literature as a correlation heuristic (Dutt and Gonzalez, 2012). Furthermore, research has indicated that the more complex a stock-flow system becomes, the more likely people are to rely on simple erroneous explanations such the correlation heuristic (Cronin et al., 2009). This type of inaccurate thinking persists even among graduate students with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at top-ranked universities (Sterman and Booth Sweeney, 2007). One can assume, therefore, that the U.S. public also largely misunderstands budget concepts.

Understanding budget systems in science settings requires an understanding of the conservation of mass and energy. In addition to being fundamental physical principles, mass and energy have many practical applications in day-today life. These misunderstandings of conservation and budget concepts offer possible explanations for some pressing problems in the U.S., including mismanagement of the federal budget, a balance of tax revenue and expenditures, and some of the difficulty many citizens have balancing their personal financial budgets, a balance of their personal income and spending. Researchers have also speculated that budget misunderstandings help explain some of the lack of public support for climate change policy, which requires citizens and policy makers to understand the delayed response of atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02) levels decreasing only when emission levels fall below removal rates from the atmosphere (Sterman and Booth Sweeney, 2007; Dutt and Gonzalez, 2012).

Research has shown that although the majority of the U.S. public views the seriousness of climate change as real, this number has fluctuated but declined overall in the last 5 y (Gallup, 2013). Climate change misconceptions are also common in the U.S. and other countries. For example, researchers have demonstrated that many people confuse ozone layer depletion with global warming or assume a cause-and-effect relationship between these two separate environmental problems (Boyes and Stanisstreet, 1992,1993, 1994, 1997, 2001; Anderson and Wallin, 2000; Daniel et al., 2004). More relevant to this study are the well-documented misunderstandings held by students and the public regarding atmospheric C02 and other budgets (Booth Sweeney and Sterman, 2007; Cronin and Gonzales, 2007; Sterman and Booth Sweeney, 2007; Cronin et al., 2009; Sterman, 2008; Moxnes and Saysel, 2009; Gonzalez and Wong, 2011; Dutt and Gonzalez, 2012).

Cronin and Gonzales (2007) examined whether different presentations of budget information, such as through nongraphical representations, had an effect on highly educated graduate students' understanding of budgets. The use of graphs was found to improve student interpretation of budget data (as opposed to data presented in a table or text). Furthermore, graduate students were presented with bar graphs, rather than the (time series) line graphs more commonly used by scientists, and with "simpler" line graphs with fewer data points. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.