Teaching Notes

Example Output

Example Output
World map and ICE Transect Plot. Click image for a larger view.

This image displays a map created by NASA Earth Observation (NEO) showing aerosol optical thickness and carbon dioxide levels. A transect plot derived from the NEO Image Composite Explorer (ICE) tool is also shown here.

Grade Level

This chapter is appropriate for students in grades 7-12.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to:
  • use NEO to display Earth system satellite data;
  • use NEO to explore geographic and time-series patterns in a single data set;
  • use NEO to explore, graph, and analyze spatial and temporal variation and covariation in satellite images;
  • describe the relationships between atmospheric carbon monoxide and aerosol concentrations; and
  • investigate the possible sources of CO and aerosols.


This chapter serves a dual purpose. It is designed primarily as a activity that emphasizes the dynamic nature of Earth's atmosphere using the power and utility of remote sensing. The secondary, but equally important purpose, is to serve as a professional development activity for science teachers.

This chapter provides a computer-based activity to supplement and reinforce classroom and laboratory study of Earth's atmosphere. Given a basic background in the physical and chemical composition and structure of the atmosphere, students will explore how concentrations of carbon monoxide and aerosols change from month to month in different locations around the world. They will learn to identify and analyze atmospheric patterns of variation and covariation (correlated variation) in space and time. Students will use covariation between the two compounds as a clue to identify their sources. In addition, students will begin to understand that even trace gases like carbon monoxide, and aerosol particles such as dust and smoke, can have a significant direct and indirect effect on how the Earth system functions.

By exploring and analyzing these patterns in NEO, students (and teachers) will gain the ability and confidence to initiate their own inquiry into the realm of NASA remotely sensed Earth system data. After completing the activity, students will be able to use NEO in a wide range of Earth system, geographic, ecological, and even social-science studies of our ever changing planet.

Background Information

Teachers will want to feel comfortable identifying patterns in a single satellite image, and in multiple images, and will need to know basic continental and regional physical geography, and a little about the social/cultural situation in their areas of interest. The Case Study discusses reasons to globally monitor aerosols and carbon monoxide at Earth's surface. Students may develop their own reasons when they build their own animation. It will be up to them to then discover something about these areas as they relate to the spatial and temporal patterns of carbon monoxide and aerosols.

Information related to the investigation of the September 2005 images of aerosol thickness data and carbon monoxide data is contained in the links below. This background information will help to explain the events that might have raised the levels of aerosols and carbon monoxide in both datasets. Links to information about how satellite sensors like MODIS and MOPITT monitor the Earth. Links to satellite orbits, and near real-time satellite monitoring

Instructional Strategies

NEO is introduced using a logical, step-by-step approach that develops a basic understanding of the NEO interface and Image Composite Explorer (ICE) tool via exploring remotely sensed images of Earth's atmosphere. Students begin with an introduction to the NEO interface. This is followed by exploring patterns within a single dataset image, Aerosol Optical Thickness at a specific date range. They will learn to measure the area of high concentration - the atmospheric plume, the level of concentration, and the geographic pattern of the plume. This exploration will develop and enforce the concept of spatial variation within a single dataset. Once they begin to see how patterns vary within a single image, they are then shown how to explore variation between images acquired at slightly different times, one month apart. As they undertake these explorations of spatial and temporal variability, they will be learning how to use NEO and the NEO ICE tool.

Once they are comfortable exploring variation in space and time within a single dataset, students will be introduced, in Part 3, to a second closely related dataset, carbon monoxide (CO). The two datasets share certain propertiesthey are both satellite-acquired, atmospheric datasets. Both datasets offer global coverage at overlapping time frames, monthly averages. Yet they offer an interesting and highly valuable lesson in Earth system science: in some cases both carbon dioxide and aerosols have the same source, while in others cases they do not. Thus, students can exploit the properties of covariation in concentration between these two datasets, in conjunction with regional geographic information, to determine their respective sources. This strategy will result in two outcomes: 1) students learn how to use a valuable Earth science tool, NEO; and 2.) they learn an important characteristic of the Earth system itself - how to use system dynamics - variation in space and time - to better understand how Earth's atmosphere is changing, and why it is changing. The activity ends with a brief discussion about the possible impacts, or results, of these changes.

Time Required

Case Study: 30 minutes
Part 1: 45 minutes
Part 2: 45 minutes
Part 3: 45 minutes
Part 4: 45 minutes
Part 5: 45 minutes

Science Standards

Grades 9-12

Science as inquiry

  • 12ASI1.2 Design and conduct scientific investigations.
  • 12ASI1.3 Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • 12ASI1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.

Physical Science

  • 12BPS1.1 Matter is made of minute particles called atoms, and atoms are composed of even smaller components.
  • 12BPS5.4 Everything tends to become less organized and less orderly over time.

Earth and Space Science

  • 12DESS2.2 Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by the earth's internal and external sources of energy.

Science and Technology

  • 12EST2.1 Scientists in different disciplines ask different questions, use different methods of investigation, and accept different types of evidence to support their explanations.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives - Environmental Quality

  • 12FSPSP4.3 Many factors influence environmental quality.
  • 12FSPSP6.1 Science and technology are essential social enterprises, but alone they can only indicate what can happen, not what should happen. The latter involves human decisions about the use of knowledge.
  • 12GHNS1.1 Individuals and teams have contributed and will continue to contribute to the scientific enterprise.

History and Nature of Science

  • 12GHNS3.4 The historical perspective of scientific explanations demonstrates how scientific knowledge changes by evolving over time, almost always building on earlier knowledge.