Earth/Environmental Science

Explore Virtual labs in Earth/Environmental Science From:

Image of a landscape


Virtual Courseware Labs:

Online Activity Labs: Topics:
Earthquake Lab
Screenshot of virtual lab
Students explore how seismic waves are used to determine the magnitude of an earthquake and to locate its epicenter. Virtual Earthquake is an interactive Web-based activity designed to introduce students to the concepts of how an earthquake EPICENTER is located and how the RICHTER MAGNITUDE of an earthquake is determined. A "Certificate of Completion" will be available to each student at the end of each activity.

Details and get access to Earthquake

Check out Earthquake
Virtual Age - Dating
screenshot of virtual lab
This is an interactive exercise about Geologic Time. Students investigate the theory and processes of radiometric age-dating of rocks. Also included is a C-14 age-dating option for once-living materials. This lab can be used to investigate how geologists and archaeologists determine the ages of rocks and ancient artifacts. A "Certificate of Completion" will be available to each student at the end of each activity.

Details and get access to Virtual Dating

Check out Virtual Dating
Virtual River
screenshot of virtual lab
Students will find two interactive exercises designed to help you learn about river processes like discharge, flooding, and flood frequency. Each activity requires you to make careful observations and measurements, do simple calculations, and answer questions about your work. A "Certificate of Completion" will be available to each student at the end of each activity.

Details and get access to Virtual River

Check out Virtual River
Global Warming
screenshot of virtual lab
Students are immersed in an interactive web-based simulation activity which illustrates the principles of global warming and climate change due to natural and human caused factors. Global Warming explores climate using an Energy Budget Model and predicts Future Climate Change using data in the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001).

Details and get access to Global Warming

Check out Global Warming


PhET™ Labs

PhET Lab experiments represent real interactive, and research-based simulations of physical phenomena from the PhET™ project at the University of Colorado. For teachers and students around the world, the PhET project provides interactive simulations that are based on extensive education research and support more effective science education. Going beyond traditional educational resources, PhET simulations offer an intuitive, game-like environment where students can learn through scientist-like exploration, where dynamic visual representations make the invisible visible, and where science ideas are connected to real-world phenomena. Unlike most educational software, PhET simulations are free, easily translated into multiple languages, and available either online or offline, especially important for areas with poor or no internet connectivity. With their flexible design, the simulations can be used in many ways - as demos, homework, or inexpensive yet accurate and realistic lab alternatives. Explore a few of the PhET Labs simulations on several Science disciplines:

Online Activity Labs: Topics:
Plate Tectonics
Screen Shot of virtual lab
Explore how plates move on the surface of the earth. Change temperature, composition, and thickness of plates. Discover how to create new mountains, volcanoes, or oceans!

Details and get access to Plate Tectonics

Check out Plate Tectonics
Gravity and Orbits
Screen Shot of virtual lab
Move the sun, earth, moon and space station to see how it affects their gravitational forces and orbital paths. Visualize the sizes and distances between different heavenly bodies, and turn off gravity to see what would happen without it!

Details and get access to Gravity and Orbits

Check out Gravity and Orbits
Screen Shot of virtual lab
Adjust mountain snowfall and temperature to see the glacier grow and shrink. Use scientific tools to measure thickness, velocity and glacial budget.

Details and get access to Glaciers

Check out Glaciers
The Greenhouse Effect
Screen Shot of virtual lab
How do greenhouse gases affect the climate? Explore the atmosphere during the ice age and today. What happens when you add clouds? Change the greenhouse gas concentration and see how the temperature changes. Then compare to the effect of glass panes. Zoom in and see how light interacts with molecules. Do all atmospheric gases contribute to the greenhouse effect?

Details and get access to The Greenhouse Effect

Check out The Greenhouse Effect
Radioactive Dating Game
Screen Shot of virtual lab
Learn about different types of radiometric dating, such as carbon dating. Understand how decay and half life work to enable radiometric dating. Play a game that tests your ability to match the percentage of the dating element that remains to the age of the object.

Details and get access to Radioactive Dating Game

Check out Radioactive Dating Game


Smart Science® Labs

Below, you will find a small selection from the Smart Science library of nearly 200 online science labs. View six labs designed for CSU general education earth/space science courses. Use any of these labs free in your courses as part of the CSU system-wide virtual lab initiative.

Smart Science real online science labs provide instructors and students with uniquely hands-on real lab experiments instead of simulations. Students collect data interactively from real experiments point-by-point using their own care and judgment just as in traditional labs. They predict or hypothesize before or during the experimental activity.

The Smart Science approach ensures that students understand the nature of science, learn scientific thinking skills, and come to appreciate the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work. Smart Science labs include quizzes and online lab reports showing all student lab data and more.

Smart Science labs are delivered in HTML5 for compatibility with all modern platforms.

Online Activity Labs: Topics:
Daily Tides
screen shot of virtual lab
Real lab. Students observe tides in Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod for the daylight hours for days they choose that span about a month's time. The data may be analyzed for period, amplitude, and/or phase.

Details and get access to Daily Tides

Check out Daily Tides link opens new window
screen shot of virtual lab
Real lab. Students measure time between P-wave and S-wave on real earthquake seismograms posted by the USGS. They then plot circles around the seismograph locations on a map to find the approximate epicenter. They do the multiplication of time by speed themselves and so may adjust the speed depending on distance, for example.

Details and get access to Earthquakes

Check out Earthquakes link opens new window
Basic Rock Identification
screen shot of virtual lab
Real lab. Student see twelve rock samples, three each of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary, rotated, scratching glass and brass, and up close. They classify each sample.

Details and get access to Basic Rock Identification

Check out Basic Rock Identification link opens new window
screen shot of virtual lab
Real lab. Various objects such as marbles, beans, metal shot, and rocks are placed in a cylindrical glass container. Equal aliquots of water are added. Students measure the height of water after each addition and calculate porosity of each medium. They look for any correlation between medium size and porosity.

Details and get access to Porosity

Check out Porosity link opens new window
Erosion and Flow
screen shot of virtual lab
Real lab. Students record channel width for water flow on a sand-filled stream table for different flow rates and slope angles. They seek to understand how flow and angle may affect channel width. Other aspects of water erosion may be considered as well.

Details and get access to Erosion and Flow

Check out Erosion and Flow link opens new window

Please contact Smart Science at 855-4-SCIENCE (855-472-4362) or email us at to get started now.

For additional contact information and to learn more about Smart Science, see this announcement.


Earth/Environmental Science Simulations in MERLOT sorted by sub-categories:

Website: Topics:
Screenshot of MERLOT


ADD Free Virtual Labs You're Using or Authored Into MERLOT

Are you using free Virtual Lab materials you found on the web in your teaching or your learning? Have you posted free Virtual Labs online that are open for others to use? We invite you to catalog these Virtual Labs you use or authored in MERLOT. Your colleagues and students around the world will thank you!


First: Become a member of MERLOT (It will take about 2 minutes and it’s FREE).

Second: Fill out the online form to Contribute a Material. (It will take about 4 minutes the first time and step-by-step instructions for contributing materials to MERLOT are available).

top of page