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Carbon dioxide and Ocean Acidification in school - The other side of climate change

Authors: Marc Thiessenhusen, Martin Gröger

Abstract: Since the Industrial Revolution the carbon dioxide concentration (CO2) increased from 280 ppm (parts per million) to an average of 401 ppm in September 2016. The warming of the atmosphere and all connected consequences are just one aspect of the climate change because the man-made rise of the carbon dioxide concentration also causes acidification of the oceans. Calcifying organisms like mussels and corals are thus hindered in making lime or even die (cf. Bathmann and Passow, 2010). Not only the continued existence of reefs and the connected natural coastal protection is thereby endangered, but also the biodiversity of the organisms in the oceans – also fish and mammals as part of the food chain are part of this.
In the context of a research study the acidification of the oceans as a result of the climate change is
made a subject of discussion and experimental exploration in primary school (grade 3/4; age 9-10)
and in secondary education (grade 5-9; age 11-15). In a design experiment study the pupils learn
about acidity and indicators which show changes of the pH value in liquids. Another part of the
experiment consists of a demonstration how carbon dioxide passes from the air into the water and the changes of the pH value which are caused by this process. In a final experiment pupils experience what happens to a suspension of mussels when carbon dioxide is added.
The experiments were carried out with 32 groups of pupils, each consisting of three students of grade
3 to 9. The experiments were complemented by semi structured interviews. After the transcription the audio material was evaluated by means of the qualitative content analysis by Kuckartz (2016) with the help of the computer program MAXQDA. After reviewing the data, a system of categories was developed inductively. The system of categories includes the categories “impact on humans”, “impact on the atmosphere” and “impact on organisms” with several subcategories. Furthermore, some typical concepts of pupils concerning the acidification of oceans were detected so that recommendations to deal with the topic in science education can be given.

Keywords: ocean acidification, climate change, carbon dioxide, education