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Paleontological Research Institution


7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics

Resource Types

  • Video, 7 minutes, 20 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Activity - Outdoors
  • Worksheet

Regional Focus



PDF, YouTube Video

Trees From Thin Air

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  • This math and science activity about photosynthesis and calculating the biomass of trees includes a video and a linked worksheet for students to complete a similar investigation on their own. 
  • The video leads students through a fast-paced investigation to determine the mass of a tree, where the mass comes from, and how much carbon dioxide a tree has absorbed in its lifetime. 
  • Students will learn what percentage of a tree is made up of carbon, how a tree’s biomass can be estimated using only the diameter of the tree’s trunk, and how to calculate the amount of carbon dioxide a tree has absorbed.
Teaching Tips


  • The linked activity contains a written recap of the concepts covered in the video and is located in the description of the video. 
  • The linked activity provides students with a chance to practice estimating the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered in a tree in their own community. 

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should be familiar with basic chemistry to understand the discussion of the mass ratio of carbon dioxide to carbon.
  • Students will need to understand the relationship between the circumference and the diameter of a circle. 
  • The video provides a short description of both photosynthesis and allometry, but students unfamiliar with the topics will need more background knowledge to fully understand the concepts. 


  • Connections can be made with math classes that are learning about geometry, graphing, or data collection and analysis.
  • Biology classes can use this video and activity to hook students before a lesson about photosynthesis or as a lab exercise after learning about the carbon cycle.
  • After estimating the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered in a tree, students can use a carbon footprint calculator to estimate their own carbon footprint and then determine how many trees it would take to cancel it out.
  • Advanced students can research why different tree species have different biomass estimations, even when their diameters are the same. 
Scientist Notes
This resource uses allometry to calculate the biomass of a tree. From there, it demonstrates how to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered in a tree. This resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Mathematics
    • Geometric Reasoning: Geometry: Geometric Measurements and Dimension (9-12)
      • HSG.GMD.A.1 Give an informal argument for the formulas for the circumference of a circle, area of a circle, volume of a cylinder, pyramid, and cone.
    • Geometric Reasoning: Geometry: Modeling with Geometry (9-12)
      • HSG.MG.A.1 Use geometric shapes, their measures, and their properties to describe objects (e.g., modeling a tree trunk or a human torso as a cylinder).
  • Science and Engineering
    • ESS2: Earth’s Systems
      • HS-ESS2-6 Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
    • LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
      • MS-LS1-6 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.
      • MS-LS1-7 Develop a model to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions forming new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as this matter moves through an organism.
      • HS-LS1-5 Use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS-LS2-4 Use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.
      • HS-LS2-5 Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
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