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chemNRICH is the area of the stemNRICH site devoted to the mathematics underlying the study of chemistry, designed to help develop the mathematics required to get the most from your study of chemistry at A-level and university.

Global Warming

Age 14 to 16
Challenge Level


In this investigation you will need to use a variety of pieces of physical data to come up with a reasonable estimate. What data will you need? Where will you find it? What estimates are sensible? What modelling assumptions are you making at each step? These are the sorts of questions that you will need to ask yourself as you undertake your investigation .

As a conservative estimate, the average temperature of the atmosphere has increased by $0.4^\circ\mathrm{C}$ over the last thirty years.

Estimate how much energy has gone into warming up the planet in this way.

Estimate how much burned fuel would be needed to give rise to this increase on the assumption that this were the only cause of changes in the earths temperature.

How much fuel burned per week over the last thirty years per person on the planet would this correspond to?

What do you think about your answer? How does the amount of burned fuel correspond to the levels of fuel actually used? What other factors would come into a more sophisticated analysis of global warming?