Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Geological and Atmospheric Sciences

First Advisor

Cinzia Cervato


With recent U.S. government efforts to develop policy procedures for addressing climate change, it is imperative that the public understand basic aspects of climate change in order for them to understand such policy. However, widespread misconceptions of basic atmospheric principles exist. In this study we document levels of misunderstanding that U.S. undergraduate students have with respect to atmospheric carbon budgets and factors that may account for variability in their understanding. Students enrolled in an introductory geology course (n = 947) completed a survey on atmospheric carbon budgets in two sequential semesters. Results indicated that most students did not have a basic understanding of mass-balance problems, and that their misunderstanding varied according to gender and their interest in science. Further, students tended to exhibit very poor graphical interpretation skills when examining mass-balance graphs.

This thesis also describes a case study designed to remediate atmospheric carbon budget misunderstandings and misconceptions. This study is based off of one year's data collected from a survey completed by introductory physical geology students (n = 465) including a control group (n = 399) and an experimental group (n = 66). The students in the experimental group worked on a remediation assignment targeting identified misconceptions during a laboratory session. After students completed the remediation assignment, which was designed to challenge the students' specific areas of misunderstanding, significant learning gains and misconception reductions were observed.


Copyright Owner

Collin Peter Reichert



Date Available


File Format


File Size

76 pages