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Equilibria in the Environment


Tracy J. Terry
Division of Science and Wellness
The University of New Mexico—Valencia Campus


This laboratory-based case study is designed to train students in using the scientific method to explore chemical equilibrium in the context of ocean acidification. Students are given information, based on which they are asked to develop hypotheses, and then conduct a series of three experiments. Students extrapolate the results of these experiments to develop new hypotheses about broader environmental implications. Real-world data is provided to support or refute their hypotheses. The three experiments build upon each other to elucidate the chemical explanations behind ocean acidification. The same set of experiments could be adapted for use in an environmental science course with the emphasis placed on teaching the chemistry behind ocean acidification. This case study is designed for high school and lower-level undergraduate chemistry courses. It is particularly well suited to developing a greater appreciation for environmental chemistry topics among students in non-majors chemistry courses.


  • Write balanced chemical equations for equilibrium reactions based on experimental observations.
  • Understand the interdependency of natural systems.
  • Use the scientific method to develop hypotheses based on previous knowledge.
  • Communicate scientific information.
  • Use Le Chatelier’s principle to predict experimental and theoretical outcomes.
  • Apply chemical knowledge and scientific thinking to real world problems.


Equilibrium; carbon cycle; acid; base; ocean acidification; Le Chatelier

Topical Areas

Scientific method

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Directed, Laboratory



Subject Headings

Environmental Science  |   Chemistry (General)  |   Marine Science / Oceanography  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

Students complete the following worksheet as part of this case study activity.

  equilibria.pdf (~1.1 MB)

Answer Key

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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Aragonite (CaCO3) Saturation Levels in the Ocean
    This computer model simulates the surface ocean aragonite saturation state from 1861 until 2100 based on historical data and future projections of carbon dioxide emissions, with coral reef locations marked in purple. Running time: 1:56 min. Produced by NOAA GFDL Earth System Model (ESM2M), 2016.