EarthLabs > Earth System Science > Lab 7: A Year in the Life of the Earth System > 7B: Identify Relationships Between Components of the Earth System

Lab 7: A Year in the Life of the Earth System

Part B: Identify Relationships Between Components of the Earth System

In this part of the investigation, you will use ImageJ to animate images from two variables side-by-side, looking for possible relationships that are occurring throughout the most recent complete year. NOTE: If you are unable to download the most current data from NEO, scroll to the bottom of the page for alternate instructions, using example files for the year 2009. For this activity, you will work in groups assigned by your instructor.


  1. Create new folders on your computer to hold the images you will download. Name your folders to match the datasets you will download (Insolation, Land Temp, SST, NDVI, or Rainfall).

  2. Select and display a monthly map for January of the last full year (e.g., if it is November 2010, you should select and display a map for January 2009) for your group's first assigned dataset. Download this image at a resolution of 0.5 degrees. Repeat for February through December so that you end up with a total of 12 images. See
    Part A if you need more detailed instructions about how to do this.

  3. Follow the same procedure to download your group's second assigned dataset.

  4. Launch ImageJ by double clicking on the application icon ImageJ icon or by selecting it from the Start menu.

  5. Choose File > Import > Image Sequence... and navigate to the folder where you stored your first set of 12 monthly images.

  6. Select the first image in the sequence (01_name.jpg) and then click the Open button. Specify the Sequence Options. Use all 12 images, beginning with image 1 and incrementing by one. Do not scale the images. Check Sort Names Numerically and click OK.

  7. Repeat the same procedure for your second set of 12 monthly images. You should now have two stacks of images open in ImageJ.

  8. Choose Image > Stacks > Tools > Combine to lock the two stacks together. Use the drop-down menus in the Combiner window to select the order (left-right) in which you want the stacks to appear and click OK.


    ImageJ: Order Combined Stacks



  9. Choose File > Save As > Tiff... to save the combined stack.

  10. Choose Image > Stacks > Tools > Animation Options... to set the speed of the animation to one frame per second and animate your image stacks. You can also use the play/pause button at the bottom left of the stack window or use the slider bar at the bottom of the image to step through slices one at a time.
    1. Choose Image > Stacks > Tools > Animation Options...



    2. Set the Speed of the animation to 1 frame per second. Animate all the frames by setting the First Frame to 1 and the Last Frame to 12. Check Start Animation and click OK. The stack will start moving through the slices.
      Set Animation Options Part 2





  11. Watch the animation several times through, looking for relationships between the two datasets. Click on your group name below to view the scale bars for your image sequences.

    Solar Insolation: What do the colors mean?
    The colors in these maps show how much sunlight (in Watts per square meter) fell on the Earth's surface during the given time period.
    Insolation scale

    Land Surface Temperature: What do the colors mean? The colors on these maps represent temperature patterns of the top millimeter (or "skin") of the land surface — including bare land, snow or ice cover, urban areas, and cropland or forest canopy — as observed by MODIS in clear-sky conditions for the time period indicated. Yellow shows the warmest temperatures (up to 45°C) and light blue shows the coldest temperatures (down to -25°C). Black means "no data."
    Land Temperature scale



    Sea Surface Temperature (SST): What do the colors mean?
    These maps show satellite measurements of the sea's surface temperature (in degrees Celsius) for a given day, or for a span of days. The coldest temperatures (down to -2°C) are purple and the warmest temperatures (up to 45°C) are shown in white. The black areas show where the satellite could not measure sea surface temperature.
    SST scale

    Solar Insolation: What do the colors mean? The colors in these maps show how much sunlight (in Watts per square meter) fell on the Earth's surface during the given time period.
    Insolation scale



    Vegetation Index (NDVI): What do the colors mean? Dark green areas show where there was a lot green leaf growth; light greens show where there was some green leaf growth; and tan areas show little or no growth. Black means "no data."
    NDVI scale

    Total Rainfall: What do the colors mean? These maps show where and how much rain fell around the world on the dates shown. Red areas show where there was a lot of rain. Yellow and green areas show medium values, and white areas show where there was little or no rainfall. Notice that most rain falls near the equator. Notice also that more rain falls on the ocean than on land. The NASA instrument that made these rainfall measurements flies on a satellite orbiting our world near the equator, so it only measures rainfall near the equator and not at high latitudes, nor in Earth's polar regions.
    Rainfall scale


  12. With your group, identify relationships between the annual cycles for your two variables by answering the following Stop and Think questions.

    Stop and Think

    1: What relationships do you see between solar insolation and land surface temperature? Sea surface temperature and solar insolation? Vegetation index and total rainfall?

    2: Do the relationships appear to be directly or inversely proportional? Explain.


  13. Designate a spokesperson to report your group's observations.

  14. Share the relationships you have identified between the two variables with the rest of the class. Also share the methods you used to identify these relationships.

    Stop and Think

    3: Think back on what you've learned during this unit. Describe the Earth as a complete system. What parts make up the Earth system? How are they connected at the local, regional, and global scales? Give specific examples of ways that each component of the Earth system impacts another component.


  1. Right-click (control-click on a Mac) to download the image file for your group.
    • Solar Insolation/Land Surface Temperature Comparison (TIFF 17.8MB Jul4 10)
      Solar Insolation: These maps show where and how much sunlight fell on Earth's surface during the time period indicated. Scientists call this measure solar insolation. Knowing how much of the Sun's energy reaches the surface helps scientists understand weather and climate patterns as well as patterns of plant growth around our world. Solar insolation maps are also useful to engineers who design solar panels and batteries designed to convert energy from the Sun into electricity to power appliances in our homes and work places.

      Land Surface Temperature: These maps show the temperature of Earth's lands during the daytime. Temperature is a measure of how warm or cold an object is. During the day, the Sun's rays warm Earth's lands. Some of this warmth rises into the air where gases catch and hold the warmth near the surface. These gases (called greenhouse gases) also help to warm Earth's land surface. We can use a thermometer to measure the temperature of any single place. Likewise, scientists can measure the temperature of the whole world from space using instruments carried on satellites. Scientists want to know the land's temperature for many important reasons. For example, in places where it is too hot or too cold food crops may die. Temperature also influences weather and climate patterns. So, mapping the temperature of Earth's lands helps scientists to better understand our world.
    • Sea Surface Temperature (SST)/Solar Insolation Comparison (TIFF 17.8MB Jul5 10)
      Sea Surface Temperature: The Sun's rays warm the sea's surface. But in some parts of the ocean, cold water from deep below the surface flows upward and cools the sea's surface. Just like when water in a pot on a stove starts to move around more as it becomes hotter, different temperatures in different parts of the ocean cause movements of seawater, called currents. And just like a pot of boiling water on a stove releases heat and water into the air above it, warm ocean waters release heat and moisture into the atmosphere. Warm ocean waters help form clouds and affect weather patterns. The sea's surface temperature also affects life in the ocean by influencing where and when tiny ocean plants (called phytoplankton) will grow. For all of these reasons scientists monitor the sea's surface temperature. These maps show satellite measurements of the sea's surface temperature for a given day, or for a span of days. The black areas show where the satellite could not measure sea surface temperature.

      Solar Insolation: These maps show where and how much sunlight fell on Earth's surface during the time period indicated. Scientists call this measure solar insolation. Knowing how much of the Sun's energy reaches the surface helps scientists understand weather and climate patterns as well as patterns of plant growth around our world. Solar insolation maps are also useful to engineers who design solar panels and batteries designed to convert energy from the Sun into electricity to power appliances in our homes and work places.
    • Vegetation Index (NDVI)/Total Rainfall Comparison (TIFF 17.8MB Jul4 10)
      Vegetation Index: Our lives depend upon plants and trees. They feed us and give us clothes. They absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen we need to breathe. Plants even provide many of our medicines and building materials. So when the plants and trees around us change, these changes can affect our health, our environment, and our economy. For these reasons, and more, scientists monitor plant life around the world. Today, scientists use NASA satellites to map the "greenness" of all Earth's lands. These vegetation index maps show where and how much green leaf vegetation was growing for the time period shown.

      Total Rainfall: Rainfall is essential for life on Earth. Rain is a main source of fresh water for plants and animals. These maps show where and how much rain fell around the world on the dates shown. Red areas show where there was a lot of rain. Yellow and green areas show medium values, and white areas show where there was little or no rainfall. Notice that most rain falls near the equator. Notice also that more rain falls on the ocean than on land. The NASA instrument that made these rainfall measurements flies on a satellite orbiting our world near the equator, so it only measures rainfall near the equator and not at high latitudes, nor in Earth's polar regions.


  2. Launch ImageJ by double clicking on the application icon ImageJ icon or by selecting it from the Start menu.

  3. Choose File > Open. Browse to the location where you saved the image file for your group and open it. You see side-by-side stacks of twelve monthly images (January-December, 2009) for two different variables. Use the scroll bar or arrows at the bottom of the window to move through the slices of the two image sequences. The slices are labeled by month in the top left of the image window (1 = January, 2 = February, etc.).

  4. Choose Image > Stacks > Tools > Animation Options... to set the speed of the animation to one frame per second and animate your image stacks.
    1. Choose Image > Stacks > Tools > Animation Options...



    2. Set the Speed of the animation to 1 frame per second. Animate all the frames by setting the First Frame to 1 and the Last Frame to 12. Check Start Animation and click OK. The stack will start moving through the slices.
      Set Animation Options Part 2





  5. Watch the animation several times through, looking for relationships between the two datasets. Click on your group name below to view the scale bars for your image sequences.

    Solar Insolation: What do the colors mean?
    The colors in these maps show how much sunlight (in Watts per square meter) fell on the Earth's surface during the given time period.
    Insolation scale

    Land Surface Temperature: What do the colors mean? The colors on these maps represent temperature patterns of the top millimeter (or "skin") of the land surface — including bare land, snow or ice cover, urban areas, and cropland or forest canopy — as observed by MODIS in clear-sky conditions for the time period indicated. Yellow shows the warmest temperatures (up to 45°C) and light blue shows the coldest temperatures (down to -25°C). Black means "no data."
    Land Temperature scale



    Sea Surface Temperature (SST): What do the colors mean?
    These maps show satellite measurements of the sea's surface temperature (in degrees Celsius) for a given day, or for a span of days. The coldest temperatures (down to -2°C) are purple and the warmest temperatures (up to 45°C) are shown in white. The black areas show where the satellite could not measure sea surface temperature.
    SST scale

    Solar Insolation: What do the colors mean? The colors in these maps show how much sunlight (in Watts per square meter) fell on the Earth's surface during the given time period.
    Insolation scale



    Vegetation Index (NDVI): What do the colors mean? Dark green areas show where there was a lot green leaf growth; light greens show where there was some green leaf growth; and tan areas show little or no growth. Black means "no data."
    NDVI scale

    Total Rainfall: What do the colors mean? These maps show where and how much rain fell around the world on the dates shown. Red areas show where there was a lot of rain. Yellow and green areas show medium values, and white areas show where there was little or no rainfall. Notice that most rain falls near the equator. Notice also that more rain falls on the ocean than on land. The NASA instrument that made these rainfall measurements flies on a satellite orbiting our world near the equator, so it only measures rainfall near the equator and not at high latitudes, nor in Earth's polar regions.
    Rainfall scale


  6. With your group, identify relationships between the annual cycles for your two variables by answering the following Stop and Think questions.

    Stop and Think

    1: What relationships do you see between solar insolation and land surface temperature? Sea surface temperature and solar insolation? Vegetation index and total rainfall?

    2: Do the relationships appear to be directly or inversely proportional? Explain.


  7. Designate a spokesperson to report your group's observations.

  8. Share the relationships you have identified between the two variables with the rest of the class. Also share the methods you used to identify these relationships.

    Stop and Think

    3: Think back on what you've learned during this unit. Describe the Earth as a complete system. What parts make up the Earth system? How are they connected at the local, regional, and global scales? Give specific examples of ways that each component of the Earth system impacts another component.







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