Mini Lesson

A Perspective on Carbon Dioxide

Mini Lesson

Students solve math problems to compare the carbon dioxide generated by the airline industry, a large volcanic eruption, and burning oil. This mini lesson is modified from a published activity in Earth Math produced by NASA Space Math at Goddard Space Flight Center.

To complete this activity, answer in a notebook, use the PDF or use the Google Form.

On March 21, 2010 the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland erupted and the expanding ash cloud grounded over 3,000 flights in Europe. Then on April 20, a major oil spill began in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the preferred method for dealing with the oil spill is to collect it using skimmers (a device to remove oil floating on the surface), burning it is also a common option. A major concern in burning oil is the addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere during the combustion process.

Gulf Oil Spill 2010 - Image Credit: NASA Jeff Schmaltz
Gulf Oil Spill 2010 - Image Credit: NASA Jeff Schmaltz

Problem 1 – The Gulf Oil Spill is predicted to generate 200,000 gallons of crude oil every day. If 50% of this oil is ultimately burned off, how many metric tons/day of carbon dioxide are generated if the combustion of 1 gallon of oil generates 10 kg of carbon dioxide?

Problem 2 – Scientists have estimated that the Iceland volcano generated 15,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per day, and this eruption continued for about 28 days. How many days will the Gulf Oil burn-off have to continue before its carbon dioxide contribution equals that of the total carbon dioxide generated by the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano?

Problem 3 – It has been estimated that the European aviation industry generates 344,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each day. If 60% of this industry was shut down by the ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano, how many metric tons of carbon dioxide would have been produced by airline flights during the 5-day shut-down of the industry?

Problem 4 – What can you conclude by comparing your answers to Problems 1, 2 and 3

Teacher Note

Teachers who are interested in receiving the answer key, please contact MND from your school email address at



Grade Band

Crosscutting Concepts

Earth System Data Explorer

Instructional Strategies

Download this page