After completing this chapter, students will be able to:
- use the GLOBE website 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; and
- describe reservoirs and flows in the context of the Earth system.
The GLOBE website, the data, and the graphing tool are powerful resources that students can use to support a variety of environmental science explorations. Although the chapter highlights a specific case study, it will prepare students to locate, graph, and analyze data from any one of the thousands of schools that have submitted data to the website. The case study will also prepare students to study local Earth system processes that have global significance. Finally, the GLOBE website holds a wealth of resources for teachers, all available at no charge.
The GLOBE Program
The GLOBE Program is a hands-on, environmental science program for primary and secondary students. Launched in 1995 with funding from several federal agencies, the program now involves students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries worldwide. Students participate by collecting local environmental data such as air temperature, cloud cover, and soil moisture content and posting that data on the GLOBE website. The growing body of data is available to both scientists and students who are studying Earth's natural system.
Although only GLOBE-trained teachers can have their students post data on the website, anyone can view or download the data.
Earth System Science
In recent decades, a combination of the computer, satellite-based instruments, and other technological advances have helped scientists gain a new understanding of Earth's dynamic natural processes. They have come to understand that Earth's major spheresthe atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, and the biosphereare intimately interconnected by water, chemicals, and energy that are constantly flowing out of one sphere and into the others. Each year scientists learn more about the results that can occur within a sphere as its reservoirs of water, chemicals, and energy change. For example, the reservoir of carbon in the lithosphere decreases as petroleum is pumped from the ground and burned. The burning causes an increase in the reservoir of carbon in the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Scientists have shown that this increase in the atmosphere's reservoir of carbon is causing an increase in the amount of heat energy that the atmosphere can hold.
Scientists who are studying Earth system processes on a global scale face a very complex challenge. However, these same basic processes that are taking place globally can be studied at the local level. Students can familiarize themselves with some of the central concepts of Earth system science by carefully studying environmental data that has been collected just outside their own schools. Alternatively, they can study data sets that have been collected by others, such as the data posted on the GLOBE Web site.
For more background information about the Earth system, click on the link to download the Introduction (Acrobat (PDF) 2MB Jan2 04) to GLOBE's Earth System Science Investigation. This PDF file will provide you with a wealth of information that is directly related to this chapter.
Ideally, students will work on this chapter in a computer lab, in order to maximize their opportunity for a hands-on experience.
As they study graphs of seasonal climate patterns for the Case Study school (Reynolds Jr. Sr. High, Greenville, PA), students are sometimes asked to compare or contrast that data with the seasonal climate patterns of their own region. Therefore, it will be helpful to discuss your local seasonal climate patterns with your class prior to starting this chapter, and to collect some related data (e.g., daily temperatures and precipitation) from your local National Weather Service website.
Note: Before your students click on the Plot All data for the Reynolds Jr. Sr. High School (see image below), you may want to take the time to explore links to other schools. The Information link opens a profile of the school.
The Obtain data, Table option, provides access to the tabular GLOBE data on which the graphs are based.
Students can start the Case Study without any prior knowledge of either GLOBE or Earth's natural system. However, they will benefit from regular teacher-led discussions as they move through the Case Study, in regard to both the use of the GLOBE website and Earth system concepts. These conversations are particularly important as students address the questions related to Earth system processes in Part 2 and Part 3 of the Case Study.
Each time the students view a new graph, they have a small number of questions to answer. Provide paper for them to answer the questions, or better yet, copy the questions onto a sheet and leave space below for their answers. The questions are simple and the answers are usually self-evident on the graph. In large part, the purpose of the questions is to direct student attention to the graph, and to help them learn that they can "read" graphs, and even ones that initially seem very complex.
The chapter directs students to make print copies of their developing graphs at several key points, to be used in answering questions. While having a print of the images for Part 2 is preferable, it is not essential. It is possible to answer the questions by viewing the graphs on the computer. Printing the graphs in Part 3 is important since students eventually tape the prints together to create a large graph of the entire year.
After completing the work on the chapter, find a time to let students reinforce their experience with the GLOBE website by having them locate and graph data sets from additional GLOBE schools.
You can use this chapter to introduce or supplement a study of the Earth system, to enrich a study of climate, or to add an interesting dimension to the collection of data outside your own school. You can also use the chapter to support a study of the water cycle.
The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter:
- Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. The use of tools and techniques, including mathematics, will be guided by the question asked and the investigations students design. The use of computers for the collection, summary, and display of evidence is part of this standard. Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and organize data, using hardware and software designed for these purposes.
- Water, which covers the majority of Earth's surface, circulates through the crust, oceans, and atmosphere in what is known as the "water cycle." Water evaporates from Earth's surface, rises and cools as it moves to higher elevations, condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soil, and in rocks underground.
- The sun is the major source of energy for phenomena on Earth's surface, such as growth of plants, winds, ocean currents, and the water cycle. Seasons result from variations in the amount of the sun's energy hitting the surface, due to the tilt of Earth's rotation on its axis and the length of the day.
- 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.
- Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near Earth's surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and Earth's rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.
Three or four 45-minute class periods.