Biological Energy - Hot or Cold

As humans have moved around, they settled towns and cities. Humans changed the natural environment to suit their desires. For example: A new grocery store comes to town, first they clear the land, build a building and asphalt a huge area for parking. Consider the following questions:

  • What effect do the human actions have on the environment?
  • What effect have human actions had on water drainage?
  • How have human actions changed animal habitat?
  • In what way have humans influenced the growth of plants?

Over the years, there have been several scientific concerns associated with our environment. In each case, scientists look closely to determine if human actions have caused the problem. In cases where human actions can reverse a problem, scientists often recommend this course of action. An example of this is:

Biologists became alarmed in the late 1980s with the disappearance of many types of amphibians. Amphibians have been around for 100 million years, long before the dinosaurs. Their sudden disappearance is alarming not only for the amphibians, but scientists were afraid that the vanishing amphibians might be an example of "miner's canary" syndrome.

In the nineteenth century, coal miners took canaries down into the mines with them. Canaries are very sensitive to the poisonous odorless gas carbon monoxide. If carbon monoxide was present in the mines, the canary would die alerting the miners to get out before the miners died.

Amphibians are very sensitive to their environment, too, because their moist skin absorb chemicals from pond water. Biologists worried that the amphibians disappearance was an early warning that something very damaging was happening to the environment. One of the culprits is acid rain. Acid rain results when sulfur in smoke produced by the burning of coal and oil reacts with water in the air to form sulfuric acid, which falls back to Earth in rain or snow. This is one example of how humans are affecting the environment.

In this lab we will examine the temperature of different surfaces and their effects on the environment.


  • Thermometer
  • Metric ruler
  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Piece of cardboard
  • Graph paper


  1. Choose four different surfaces around your school. Locations might include: asphalt, concrete, grass, sand, or dirt.
    • Observe your area. Record the time of the observation and a description of the area.
    • Carefully hold the thermometer three centimeters off the ground next to the surface you selected.
    • Shade the thermometer from direct sunlight using the piece of cardboard.
    • After the temperature stabilizes (three to five minutes) record the temperature on the data table.
      Surface area Time of day Area description Temperature
  2. Repeat this process on the other three surfaces.
  3. Compare your data with the data of your friends.
  4. Use a bar graph to graph your data.

Safety concerns: icon Be sure to follow all glassware safety rules that are specified by your teacher in all general laboratory experiences. As with all science lab activities, the most important safety rule is to follow all teacher directions.


    1. In addition to any temperature differences, what other observations did you find when comparing the four surfaces?
    2. How did the temperatures differ between the four locations?
      • How do you account for such differences?
    3. What effect does the temperature have on the amount of life you found in your area?
    4. Describe what you think each area was like over one hundred years ago.
    5. How does this relate to areas like the rainforest where trees are cleared out to allow farming or mining to occur?