Pathway 1: Instrumentation

How do we know what we know about the Earth?

Essential Questions

  • What can scientific instruments measure, and how?
  • How are multiple instruments (an "array") better than one instrument?

Essential Understandings

  • Scientific instruments have strengths and limitations
  • Scientific instruments detect and quantify information that is not possible to gather with human senses
  • Multiple instruments collect information that is not possible to acquire with only one (i.e., earthquake location)
  • Multiple instruments can improve the quality of data with greater geographic and temporal resolution

Activity Pathway

Glossary of activity types (ex. Introductory, Inquiry, etc.) (Opens in a new window.)

Instructor Guide

Getting Students Started with the Quake Catcher Network
Instructions and tips for accessing real world data about earthquakes in your local area, or around the world, using the Quake Catcher Network (QCN) data portal. This data portal can be used as a demonstration to engage learners, or used directly by learners to conduct inquiry investigations.
            Introductory    |    Data    |    Virtual    |    Inquiry

Primary Activities

Reading an Earthquake Seismogram
Introductory lesson presenting the information about an earthquake that can be gained from a single seismogram, such as the amplitude of shaking experienced by the site, and approximate distance from the site to the earthquake epicenter.
                              Introductory    |    Data    |    Virtual
Understanding Earthquakes: Comparing Seismograms
Introductory lesson in which learners compare multiple seismograms to gain a better understanding of how different locations respond differently to earthquake waves, and how these variations can provide information about the structure of the Earth.
                              Data    |    Virtual
Alaska GPS Analysis of Plate Tectonics and Earthquakes
This activity introduces students to high precision GPS as it is used in geoscience research. Students study data from three Alaska GPS stations and learn how Alaska's south central region is building up energy that will be released in the future in other earthquakes such as the 1964 Alaska earthquake.
                              Data    |    Virtual
Exploring Tectonic Motions with GPS
Learners study plate tectonic motions by analyzing Global Positioning System (GPS) data, represented as vectors on a map (online or paper). By observing changes in vector lengths and directions, learners interpret whether regions are compressing, extending, or sliding past each other.
                              Introductory    |    Data    |    Virtual



Locating an Earthquake with Seismic Data
Learners interpret multiple seismograms generated in different locations but from the same earthquake event in order to locate the epicenter of the earthquake.
                              Data    |    Hands-On
Build Your Own Seismograph 
This IRIS lesson is a hands-on activity in which students build their own seismograph instrument using an engineering design approach.
                              Introductory    |    Hands-On    |    Collaborative
Tsunami Early Warning Demonstration
Hands-on demonstration that shows how instruments can be used to save lives during an event.

                              Introductory    |    Hands-On


References & Resources