Initial Publication Date: November 22, 2010

Lab 6: A Year in the Life of the Earth System


Cloud Fraction 2009
Earth's climate is very sensitive to small (10-30 percent) changes in clouds. Studying changes in cloud cover can help scientists figure out what human-made changes will do to Earth's climate. This animation shows monthly cloud fraction for the year 2009. Image source: NASA NEO.
Throughout this unit, you have been examining Earth as a system of interacting partsfirst from a local perspective, then from a regional point of view, and finally at the global scale. Until now, you have been looking at the Earth system at a single point in time. However, the Earth is constantly changing, every second, every day, every year. In order to fully understand the Earth as a system and how its components interact with each other, you need to consider change over time. How do the atmosphere, hydrosphere, pedosphere, and biosphere change over the course of a year? What relationships exist between components of the Earth system at the global scale?

In Part A of this lab, you will use ImageJ, a free image processing tool, to make an animation of monthly data maps for one component of the Earth system in order to explore how the Earth changes over time at the global scale. In Part B, you will make an animation of two datasets side by side to determine relationships between different components of the Earth system during the year 2009.

After completing this investigation, you should be able to:
  • use ImageJ to animate monthly maps of Earth system components;
  • find patterns and connections between and among maps containing different environmental data; and
  • understand the relationship between time and space with regard to global environmental data.

Keeping Track of What You Learn

Throughout these labs, you will find two kinds of questions.
  • Checking In questions are intended to keep you engaged and focused on key concepts and to allow you to periodically check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
  • Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills you should be learning from the lab activities and readings.
Your teacher will let you know which answers you should record and turn in.