Witness the influence of the sun on the seasonal abundance of plant matter produced on land and in our oceans.

Guiding Questions for Classroom Discussion

  • What is carbon absorption a measure of?
  • How do plants respond to seasonal changes in sunlight?
  • Which areas of our planet are most productive, and why?



Sample Lesson that Directly Integrates This Science Visualization

phytoplankton bloom

Photosynthesis Seen From Space (grades 6-11)
Observations inspire scientific questions and drive discoveries. In this activity, students will watch a visualization of empirical scientific data to explore seasonal changes in primary productivity on the Earth. They will then formulate and research their own scientific questions about primary productivity on the earth and present their research in a classroom scientific poster session.

Connections to Standards

Next Generation Science Standards Disciplinary Core Ideas 

  • LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms:
    • (6-8) ​Plants, algae (including phytoplankton), and many microorganisms use the energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen. These sugars can be used immediately or stored for growth or later use.
    • (9-12) The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus released oxygen.
  • LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems:
    • (9-12) Photosynthesis and cellular respiration (including anaerobic processes) provide most of the energy for life processes.
    • (9-12) Photosynthesis and cellular respiration are important components of the carbon cycle, in which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and geosphere through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes. 
  • PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life:
    • (5) The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water).
    • (6-8) The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur. In this reaction, carbon dioxide and water combine to form carbon-based organic molecules and release oxygen.
    • (6-8) Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials.
    • (9-12) The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.

California's Environmental Principles and Concepts 

  • Principle III: Natural systems proceed through cycles that humans depend upon, benefit from and can alter.
    • Concept a: Students need to know that natural systems proceed through cycles and processes that are required for their functioning.

Vocabulary for Students

  • carbon cycle: Carbon is part of both the living and non-living parts of the planet, as a component in organisms (biosphere), atmospheric gases, water (hydrosphere), and rocks (lithosphere). The carbon contained in any of the planet’s spheres does not remain there forever, but moves from one sphere to another in an ongoing process known as the carbon cycle.
  • empirical: based on observation, experience, or experimentation; not theoretical
  • photosynthesis: the process by which a cell capture energy in sunlight and uses it to make food
  • phytoplankton: plant-like plankton, primarily microscopic algae and protozoa, that carry out photosynthesis
  • primary productivity: (in the context of photosynthetic producers as opposed to chemosynthetic producers): a measure of the rate at which new organic matter is developed through photosynthesis in producer organisms based on the oxygen released and carbon taken in; the transformation of solar energy to biomass
  • producer: an organism, such as a plant, that can make its own food

How Have Teachers Used this Video Clip?

To teachers, from teachers: ideas on using this video clip

"We will be looking at food webs this year, so all the information about photosynthesis and the food chain are great supplemental materials to our curriculum."
-3rd-5th Grade Science Teacher from San Rafael, CA

"I would use the Timelapse of Photosynthesis from Space as an assessment of students' understanding of photosynthesis inputs and outputs." -Middle School Life Science Teacher from Pleasant Hill, CA

"I showed the entire Habitat Earth film as a virtual field trip at the end of our cell energy unit. I specifically asked students to write down what was familiar about photosynthesis and what (if any) questions they had. Additionally, I showed the time lapse video and had the students guess what was going on/what time of year it was at each point in the time lapse (as the activity for that lesson suggested.)"
-Middle School Life Science Teacher from Vallejo, CA

"I will be using the timelapse photosynthesis with our climate unit, because it is an excellent visualization tool."
-High School Earth and Space Science Teacher from Portland, OR

"The short videos of photosynthesis from space and bird migrations overlaying photosynthesis, and the water transport videos will be great hook activities for my cell energetics lessons. I appreciate that there isn't any narration, allowing the students to watch and draw their own conclusions. Great for developing critical thinking!"
-High School Life and Environmental Science Teacher from San Rafael, CA

"I suggested the photosynthesis from space video as a phenomenon to base a photosynthesis lesson on for NGSS implementation work I am doing with other science teachers."
-High School Life Science Teacher from San Lorenzo, CA

Have an idea you'd like us to post on this page? Email us.

Visualizations based on aggregated data provide the unique opportunity to engage your students in various Science Practices highlighted in the Next Generation Science Standards, including asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, and constructing explanations. As an example, Academy educators developed sample activities such as this one and this one.

Other Related Activities

Using Empirical Data in the Classroom (grades 6-10)
Why do birds migrate? How do seasonal changes in primary productivity influence the behaviors of higher order consumers like raptors? Visualize and explore the connectedness of organisms within and across ecosystems in this teacher-guided activity.

Seasons of Change (grades 6-12)
Is there a plant near your house or school that produces beautiful flowers in the spring, or a tree whose leaves change to striking colors in the fall? Do you think those flowers blooming or color change happens on the same day every year? By becoming a citizen scientist through Project BudBurst, you’ll investigate questions just like those and will help scientists answer big questions about plants, seasons, and climate change!

Recommended Resources

Phytoplankton Blooms
How do phytoplankton blooms affect ecosystems? Learn what causes these potentially toxic blooms and how scientists monitor them to ensure food safety. 

Photosynthesis Colors
Discover the power of photosynthesis - a seemingly magical process by which plants, algae, and some microbes capture sunlight and turn it into usable energy.

Improving Photosynthesis
Cutting-edge research is trying to improve upon the photosynthetic process to solve future global issues like food shortages and cleaner, renewable fuels.

A Plant-Filled Planet
This science news article summarizes the tremendous impact plants have had on our planet for hundreds of millions of years. 

Data Sources

Ocean Productivity
Michael Behrenfeld

Land Productivity

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