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It's a Gas! The Exchange of Gases Between the Soil and the Atmosphere

This article is from Issue Tropical - Vol. 3 No. 1.

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Tropical forests are sometimes cut down so that humans can use the trees for wood and other products. Then, the cleared land is made into a pasture so that cattle can be raised for human consumption. When forest land becomes pasture, the soil changes. The soil changes again once the land is abandoned. The scientists wanted to know if new forests in pastures released greenhouse gases.

Welcome to the Tropical edition

Note to Educators

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Atmosphere (Educators)
  • Forest and Grassland Use (Educators)
  • The Value of Forests and Grasslands (Educators)
  • Vegetation Management (Educators)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Southern

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Chemistry is the science of the building blocks of all matter. Atoms are the most basic building block. Molecules are combinations of two or more atoms of the same chemical element. All matter is built from over 100 chemical elements. Examples of elements are nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. Compounds are made up of two or more elements. To make it easier to imagine, think about the alphabet. Atoms are like different letters. There could be 'A' atoms, 'B' atoms, and 'C' atoms, for example. Elements are like a single letter, such as A, I, or T. Molecules are like strings of the same letter (or element), such as BBB or MMMM. Compounds are like words, which are made from different letters (or elements). When elements interact and become compounds, their structure changes. Elements can form an almost limitless number of compounds, just as letters can form an almost limitless number of words. These compounds can be solid, liquid, or gas. Some scientists study the structure and behavior of gaseous compounds. In this study, the scientists were interested in studying the gaseous compounds that go into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Scientific Topics
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
The greenhouse effect is caused by certain gases that act like glass in a greenhouse. They reflect heat in the atmosphere back down to earth (Figure 1). The amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere can vary, depending on the type of gas and how long it stays in the atmosphere. The major greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane (meth an), nitrous (ni trus) oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons , also called CFCs. We need a certain level of greenhouse gases to maintain a liveable climate on Earth. If we had too small an amount of greenhouse gases, the Earth's climate would get too cold. If we get too great an amount of greenhouse gases, the Earth's climate will get too warm. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels like petroleum, can create greenhouse gases. The scientists in this study looked at greenhouse gases from another perspective. They looked at how human activities have enabled soil bacteria to increase the amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Global Warming
  • Human impact on natural resources and other living things

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Personal health (F)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Properties and changes of properties in matter (B)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Structure and function in living systems (C)
  • Structure of the earth system (D)
  • Transfer of energy (B)

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Habits of Mind: Communication Skils
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • The Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry
  • The Nature of Science: The Scientific Enterprise
  • The Physical Setting: The Earth
  • The Physical Setting: The Structure of Matter