EarthLabs for Educators > Earth System Science > Lab Overviews

Lab Overviews

1. Think Globally, Act Locally
Students are introduced to four major components of the Earth system: the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and pedosphere. They start to apply this knowledge as they visit the local study site to identify elements of these four spheres and infer connections among them. The investigation concludes with students making predictions about ways that a change in the characteristics of one component of their study site might affect the characteristics of other components.
Tools Needed: digital camera, gloves or hand-washing supplies (optional)

2. Drawing Local Connections
Students annotate a photograph of their local study site and then develop a more abstract diagram of the site that highlights the flow of energy and matter among the four components of the Earth system. The investigation concludes with students sharing their diagrams and creating a single class diagram to represent their study site.
Tools Needed: drawing supplies (paper, pens, colored pencils, etc.), printer

3. Discovering Local Data
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 (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) collected across an extended period of time by GLOBE students at a school in northwestern Pennsylvania. The graphs help students discover some basic environmental patterns that will help them better understand the Earth system and the way in which the parts of the system interact.
Tools Needed: GLOBE graphing tool (requires internet connection), printer

4. A Bird's Eye View: Exploring Your Region
In this lab, students focus their attention on an area significantly larger than their study site as they apply their developing knowledge of local Earth system interactions to the regional scale. Although the scale changes, the questions remain the same. How does organism or process or event "A" influence, or become changed by organism or process or event "B"? Specifically, in what ways is my local region interconnected with adjoining regions? What types of matter and energy cross the regional boundaries to help define and shape the neighboring regions? Although students will investigate the region in which they live, the concept of a "study site" changes: instead of focusing their attention on an actual plot of land, students will investigate their region by combining their personal knowledge of the region with information they can learn from Google Earth.
Tools Needed: Google Earth (requires internet connection)

5. It's All Connected: Global Circulation
Students begin this lab by looking at average wind and water patterns across the globe to explore how different regions of the world are connected to one another. They then trace pathways of wind and water on a world map into and out of their region, and across an ocean to other parts of the Earth. Students use a computer simulation to track ocean currents and determine where a message in a bottle might end up if they dropped it into the ocean near their home region.
Tools Needed: printer, NASA Ocean Motion Ship Drift Model (requires internet connection)

6. Air, Water, Land, & Life: A Global Perspective
Students review a variety of images and maps of the whole Earth in order to identify the major components of the Earth system at the global scale. The maps show solar energy, average temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, soil moisture, and vegetation, and the images are of the Earth from space. As a class, they discuss some ways that the components of the Earth system interact to form the whole Earth system. After playing the NOAA Water Cycle Game, students describe the water cycle at the global scale in greater detail, identify the components through which water passes and the processes that move it, and draw an abstract diagram of the water cycle at the global scale.
Tools Needed: NASA NEO (requires internet connection), printer

7. A Year in the Life of the Earth System
In order to fully understand the Earth as a system and how its components interact with each other, students consider change over time. How do the atmosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere change over the course of a year? What relationships exist between components of the Earth system at the global scale? In Part A of this lab, students use ImageJ, a free image processing tool, to make an animation of monthly data maps for one component of the Earth system in order to explore how the Earth changes over time at the global scale. In Part B, they make an animation of two datasets side by side to determine relationships between different components of the Earth system.
Tools Needed: NASA NEO (requires internet connection), ImageJ image analysis software (free download)

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