Climate Change Meltdown

This demonstration simulates the effect greenhouse gases have on Earth’s climate. It works best if you have sufficient materials for pairs or small groups of kids to each construct their own simulation.


To learn how greenhouse gases work to warm up Earth’s climate


  • Sand or stones
  • 2 glasses of water
  • 2 empty plastic soda bottles with the top fourth cut off
  • 4 transparent plastic cups
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Rubber bands
  • Strong sun
  • Ice cubes


30 minutes


First, to prepare the “islands” and “glaciers,” fill each soda bottle with an inch or so of sand or small stones. Using scissors, cut four vertical slits in the bottom of each of two plastic cups; water will flow from these spaces. Place the cups with slits on top of the cups without holes, using tape to put them together without covering the slits. With the slit cup on top, place each pair of taped together cups in a bottle, pushing the cups down into the sand or rocks to form a sort of “island.” See diagram below (courtesy of PC/Dominican Republic).

Now, pour water into each bottle until the water is an inch above the sand or stones. Water levels should be equal in the two bottles. Add equal amounts of ice in each slit cup (representing glaciers).

Cover one bottle with plastic wrap, holding it in place with a rubber band or tape. Leave the bottles in the sun. After 30 minutes or so, notice the changes in water level and amounts of ice in the two bottles.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In which bottle did the ice melt faster? Why? (The ice melted faster in the covered bottle because the heat was trapped.)
  2. Which model demonstrates the greenhouse effect? (On our planet, the heat of the sun is trapped by the atmosphere and greenhouse gases, like the covered bottle.)
  3. If they were real “islands,” where would you like to live? Why?
  4. If climate change causes more rapid melting of the glaciers on land, what do you think will happen to ocean levels? (Ocean levels can be expected to rise, and many coastal cities will become submerged by water.)

This lesson plan is an activity from the Environmental Activities for Youth Clubs and Camps, a resource developed by the Peace Corps Office of Overseas Programming and Training (OPATS). It was contributed by Peace Corps/Dominican Republic.

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