EarthLabs for Educators > Earth System Science > Lab 3: Discovering Local Data

Discovering Local Data

The lab activity described here was adapted from the Earth Exploration Toolbook Chapter Using GLOBE Data to Study the Earth System for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

In Labs 1 and 2 students combined their observations at the study site with life experience and reasoning as they made a list of the ways in which components and elements of the Earth system are interconnected. In this investigation they analyze data that suggest some of the same kinds of interconnectedness but that also raise some questions. Their life experiences and reasoning skills continue to be essential as they attempt to address the mysteries.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • use the GLOBE Web site to locate and study environmental data
  • use the GLOBE Graphing Tool to display data
  • describe the role of solar energy in the annual fluctuations of soil moisture
  • describe reservoirs and flows in the context of the Earth system
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Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

Guided by a detailed set of instructions from the online resource the Earth Exploration Toolbook Chapter Using GLOBE Data to Study the Earth System, students graph four sets of data collected across an extended period of time by GLOBE students at a school in northwestern Pennsylvania. The data sets are: daily maximum air temperature; daily precipitation; daily soil moisture at a depth of 10 cm; and daily soil moisture at a depth of 90 cm. The resulting graph is complex. Zooming in for a closer look makes some of the patterns emerge more clearly, but not all of the relationships are obvious. Why does soil moisture at 10 cm below the surface increase with precipitation during the warmer months but not during the colder months? Why does soil moisture at 90 cm below the surface seem independent of precipitation but more related to air temperature?

The patterns in the data make more sense after students take into account the biosphere and the bigger picture of seasonal climate change in northern Pennsylvania. Specifically, frozen soil and dormant vegetation during the winter months lead to stable moisture content. A more permeable soil during the summer months, in combination with frequent precipitation, leads to fluctuations in soil moisture at 10 cm. The active vegetation and increased transpiration during the warmer months leads to a steady drop in soil moisture at a depth of 90 cm. A rich discussion about the possible causes is sure to strengthen student understanding of the interconnectedness of the Earth system elements that shape our world, and the role that solar energy plays in driving those interconnections. When soil moisture drops during the summer months, where does the water go? By reasoning, students can hypothesize that as the reservoir of water in the pedosphere is reduced, the reservoirs of water in the vegetation (biosphere) and the atmosphere are increased.

In Part A: Students navigate to the data on the GLOBE (classic) Web site.

In Part B: Students import the four data sets into the online GLOBE graphing tool. At each step, there are questions for students to answer about the data.

In Part C: Students analyze the data and work to make sense of it. Again, there are questions for them to answer at each step.

In Part D: Students read more about the environmental factors that shape the interactions in northern Pennsylvania and answer additional questions.

Printable Materials

To download one of the PDF or Word files below, right-click (control-click on a Mac) the link and choose "Save File As" or "Save Link As."

  • Stop and Think Questions (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 204kB Sep13 10) and Word (Microsoft Word 188kB Sep13 10)
  • Suggested Answers

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    to Stop and Think Questions

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • The directions that help students move through Parts A, B, and C are extensive and well-illustrated so students should be able to complete those parts without difficulty.
  • While the data raises some interesting questions and the interactions among the spheres are generally applicable, the specific data (Greenville, PA) is not relevant for most students. As a follow-up to this investigation, you may want your students to search for a GLOBE school closer to your own location to view and analyze similar data or to work with data that highlights different connections between the spheres.
  • You may also want to have your students collect the same data from their own study site or from another location. The instruments you'll need to do this are: a thermometer; a rain gauge; one or more soil moisture sensors; and a meter for reading the sensors.
  • For more information about soil moisture, sensors, and meters, visit the Web sites below. Both Web sites have downloadable PDF versions of the listed publications.

Soil Moisture Monitoring: Low-Cost Tools and Methods

Toolkit for the GLOBE Teachers' Guide


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions in Parts B, C, and D.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Lab 3 activities have been correlated to Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

(1) Scientific processes. The student conducts laboratory and field investigations for at least 40% of instructional time using safe, environmentally appropriate, and ethical practices. The student is expected to:

(A) demonstrate safe practices during laboratory and field investigations.

(2) Scientific processes. The student uses scientific methods during laboratory and field investigations. The student is expected to:

(E) demonstrate the use of course equipment, techniques, and procedures, including computers and web-based computer applications;

(F) use a wide variety of additional course apparatuses, equipment, techniques, and procedures as appropriate such as satellite imagery and other remote sensing data, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning System (GPS), scientific probes, microscopes, telescopes, modern video and image libraries, weather stations, fossil and rock kits, bar magnets, coiled springs, wave simulators, tectonic plate models, and planetary globes;

(G) organize, analyze, evaluate, make inferences, and predict trends from data;

(I) communicate valid conclusions supported by data using several formats such as technical reports, lab reports, labeled drawings, graphic organizers, journals, presentations, and technical posters.

(3) Scientific processes. The student uses critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and problem solving to make informed decisions within and outside the classroom. The student is expected to:

(A) in all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student;

(B) communicate and apply scientific information extracted from various sources such as current events, news reports, published journal articles, and marketing materials.

(11) Science Concepts. Solid Earth. The student knows that Earth's surface continuously changes over long and short time scales in ways involving dynamic and complex interactions among Earth's subsystems. The student is expected to:

(A) compare the roles of erosion, deposition, and igneous activity by lava, water, wind, ice, and gravity in constantly reshaping Earth's surface;

(C) describe and interpret Earth surface features using a variety of methods including satellite imagery, aerial photography, topographic and geologic maps, and apply appropriate technologies such as Geographic Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers and Geographic Information Science (GIS) software.

(13) Science concepts. Fluid Earth. The student knows that the Fluid Earth is composed of the hydrosphere and atmosphere subsystems that interact on various time scales with the biosphere and geosphere. The student is expected to:

(D) discuss mechanisms, such as atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, major volcanic eruptions, changes in solar luminance, giant meteorite impacts, and human activities that result in significant changes in Earth's climate.

(15) Fluid Earth. The student knows that interactions among Earth's five subsystems influence climate and resource availability, which affect Earth's habitability. The student is expected to:

(A) describe how changing surface-ocean conditions, including El Niño-Southern Oscillation, affect global weather and climate patterns.

Lab 3 activities have been correlated to the following National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (12ASI)

Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

12ASI1.2 Design and conduct scientific investigations. Designing and conducting a scientific investigation requires introduction to the major concepts in the area being investigated, proper equipment, safety precautions, assistance with methodological problems, recommendations for use of technologies, clarification of ideas that guide the inquiry, and scientific knowledge obtained from sources other than the actual investigation. The investigation may also require student clarification of the question, method, controls, and variables; student organization and display of data; student revision of methods and explanations; and a public presentation of the results with a critical response from peers. Regardless of the scientific investigation performed, students must use evidence, apply logic, and construct an argument for their proposed explanations.

12ASI1.3 Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications. A variety of technologies, such as hand tools, measuring instruments, and calculators, should be an integral component of scientific investigations. The use of computers for the collection, analysis, and display of data is also a part of this standard. Mathematics plays an essential role in all aspects of an inquiry. For example, measurement is used for posing questions, formulas are used for developing explanations, and charts and graphs are used for communicating results.

12ASI1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence. Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.

12ASI1.6 Communicate and defend a scientific argument. Students in school science programs should develop the abilities associated with accurate and effective communication. These include writing and following procedures, expressing concepts, reviewing information, summarizing data, using language appropriately, developing diagrams and charts, explaining statistical analysis, speaking clearly and logically, constructing a reasoned argument, and responding appropriately to critical comments.

Earth and Space Science (12DESS)

Geochemical cycles

12DESS2.2 Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth's internal and external sources of energy. These movements are often accompanied by a change in the physical and chemical properties of the matter. Carbon, for example, occurs in carbonate rocks such as limestone, in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas, in water as dissolved carbon dioxide, and in all organisms as complex molecules that control the chemistry of life.