Case Study: Using Local Data to Study Global Patterns

Local Data and Seasonal Weather Patterns

You probably pay attention to local weather reports, so you'll know if it's going to be a rainy day, or if it's going to snow or become very humid. If you spend enough time living in one place, you'll get to know what the seasons are like in a general way, what to expect, and what the common weather patterns are for your area. For example, depending where you live, winter may mean frozen lakes, or a rainy season, or just no need for air conditioning.

Most people know what the local seasonal patterns are, but not very much about what causes them. They may understand that Earth's orbit around the sun is related to seasonal patterns, but they may not have heard about the Earth system, and the role it plays in our seasons, our natural environment, and our lives. This is not surprising, since most of Earth's natural processes are not at all obvious.

Earth's System

In this chapter you will learn some things about the Earth system, the phrase that scientists use to describe the combination of Earth's major spheresthe atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the lithosphere, and the biosphereand the way in which they interact and cause changes in one another.

The Earth system is large and complicated, but there are some simple ways to start learning about it. For example, scientists are studying changes in the rate at which water evaporates from the world's oceans. You could study the evaporation rates of smaller bodies of water close to your own school and learn about the way evaporation rates vary across the seasons. In this chapter you will start learning about the Earth system by studying weather and other environmental data that has already been collected by students from the Reynolds Jr. Sr. High School, and posted on the Internet.

Reynolds Jr. Sr. High School

Reynolds Jr. Sr. High School is located in Greenville, Pennsylvania, in the northwest corner of the state. Greenville sits on a forested plateau 350 meters above sea level. The entire area is cut by rivers and streams, which flow off the plateau. The Shenango River, which flows close to the school, eventually flows into the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, and finally into the Gulf of Mexico.

The GLOBE Program

The GLOBE Program is a hands-on, environmental science program. Students from around the world participate by collecting local environmental data such as air temperature, cloud cover, or soil moisture content and posting that data on the GLOBE website. Started in 1995, the program now involves students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. The growing collection of data is available to both scientists and students who are studying Earth's natural system.

Reynolds High students started collecting environmental data from the vicinity of their school and posting it on the GLOBE Program website in 1995. Since then they have posted more than 43,000 measurements on the site, and they are still very actively involved. Both scientists and students are now using the Reynolds data, as well as GLOBE data collected by students from all around the world, to learn more about Earth's natural system.

In this chapter, you will learn how to find the data that Reynolds High students have posted on the GLOBE website, and how to display that data using the GLOBE Graphing Tool. The graphs will help you to discover some basic environmental patterns, ones you may not have noticed or thought much about. These patterns will help you better understand some things about Earth's natural system and the way in which the parts of the system interact. Once you have learned something about the GLOBE website and Earth's natural system, you will have some new opportunities available to you:

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