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Using GLOBE Data to Study the Earth System (College Level)

Nick Haddad, Center for Science Teaching and Learning, TERC, Nick_Haddad@terc.edu
Tamara Shapiro Ledley, Center for Science Teaching and Learning, TERC, Tamara_Ledley@terc.edu

Starting Point materials: Brian Welch, St. Olaf College

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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


This example is a college-level adaptation of a chapter from the Earth Exploration Toolbook. The chapter guides students through the process of locating and graphing Web-based environmental data that has been collected by GLOBE Program (more info) participants. It is based on an example developed for the GLOBE resource Earth System Science Investigation, which is a section of the GLOBE Teacher's Guide. This example provides general tips for using GLOBE data as in-class or take-home exercises. The global nature of the data sets creates opportunities to look at spatial relationships within the Earth system.

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Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, users will be able to:

  • use the GLOBE Web site to locate and study environmental data
  • use the GLOBE Graphing Tool to display data
  • describe the role of solar energy in the annual fluctuations of soil moisture
  • describe reservoirs and flows in the context of the Earth system

Context for Use

The EET chapter describes step-by-step exercises using the GLOBE data set and is written for grades 7-12. The process of collecting online data and processing them to establish spatial patterns is an integral part of geoscience. Older students should be able to use the comprehensive instructions to complete the online data analysis with limited instructor assistance.

Teaching Materials

The EET chapter Using GLOBE Data to Study the Earth System provides a comprehensive description of the GLOBE program, resources, and tools, as well as step-by-step instructions for a simple exercise with the data. The "Going Further" page of the EET chapter provides additional ideas for ways to utilize the data in the classroom.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The EET chapter exercise has the student perform all of the graphing exercises using the online graphing utility. This option is ideal if students only have access to computers with internet access, but no data analysis software (e.g. Excel, Origin, Matlab, etc.). However, the data can be downloaded to tab-delimited text (ASCII) files that can be imported into most data analysis programs with little difficulty. While this process may intimidate students with little computing experience, it is an integral part of modern geoscience data analysis. Curve-fitting, normalization, ratios, and other processing steps can be applied to the data in stand-alone processing applications.

GLOBE data also can be downloaded as ESRI shapefiles for use in GIS software to create maps of measurement values (choose the "Download shapefile (zipped)" option from the Output Format menu in the GLOBE data access page). These can be used in standard ESRI GIS products (ArcView, ArcInfo, etc.) or ESRI's free ArcVoyager SE software. Students can create multiple maps of conditions over time or compare spatial variations in surface measurements (e.g. soil moisture and temperature).


Report of the analysis including maps and discussion of the spatial/temporal relationships between the GLOBE observation data points. Assessment can be based on the accuracy of the results and how well the students have mastered the data analysis and mapping methods.

References and Resources

ArcVoyager SE - free GIS software from ESRI

What is Excel? - a tutorial on how to use Excel to analyze and plot data