Deciviews from Look Rock, Great Smoky Mountains National Park: How Hazy is it?

Module by: Len Vacher (University of South Florida), Jim Renfro (Great Smoky Mountains National Park), and Susan Sachs (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

Cover Page by: Len Vacher and Amie Fishinger, University of South Florida

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This material was originally developed by Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


This Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum activity introduces Geology of National Parks students to factors that affect visibility and air quality at Look Rock, Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Students learn about phenomena that cause differences in visibility and what instruments are used to measure them. Students explore how to quantify visibility based on concentration data of six commonly measured aerosol constituents. The intent of the module is to have Geology of National Parks students make numerical calculations using an algorithm as they learn about air quality and visibility.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number NSF DUE-0836566. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Learning Goals


Students will:

  • Gain experience using algorithms.
  • Use the Regional Haze Rule algorithm to calculate haze index.
  • Calculate extinction coefficient as part of an algorithm.
  • Calculate the standard visual range.
  • Compare results in order to assess how the haze index and standard visual range represent visibility.
  • Describe how the Haze Index is like the Richter Magnitude.

In the process the students will:

  • Gain understanding of a logarithmic scale.
  • Be introduced to aerosols that affect air quality.
  • Understand how pollution affects visibility.
  • Describe the difference between regional haze and clouds.

Context for Use

This module is designed for potential use in the Geology of National Parks service course at USF. The course is offered as an online course every semester. It includes readings from Parks and Plates, weekly quizzes based on that textbook, and weekly student activities designed to align the course with the University's general education requirements. This module is intended to be one of those activities, with the specific goal of meeting the gen-ed quantitative literacy dimension.

Description and Teaching Materials


The module is a PowerPoint presentation with embedded spreadsheets. Click on the link below to download a copy of the module.

Optimal results are achieved with Microsoft Office 2007 or later; the module will function in earlier versions with slight cosmetic compromises. If the embedded spreadsheets are not visible, save the PowerPoint file to disk and open it from there.

The above PowerPoint presentation file is the student version of the module. It includes a template for students to use to complete the spreadsheet(s) and answer the end-of-module questions, and then turn in for grading.

An instructor version is available by request. The instructor version includes the completed spreadsheet. Send your request to Len Vacher ( by filling out and submitting the Instructor Module Request Form.

Teaching Notes and Tips

The module is constructed to be a stand-alone resource. It can be used as a homework assignment, lab activity, or as the basis of an interactive classroom activity. It was used as an out-of-class activity in a senior-elective course, Environmental Geology of the National Parks (for geology majors and nonmajors), during development of the module in Spring 2010, and as an out-of-class activity in Computational Geology (a QL course for geology majors) in Fall 2010 and Fall 2011. In both courses, the module was used after the students had worked through several other modules. In general, the students considered this module to be one of the more challenging of the collection, but well within their range of expectations for level of difficulty. It has not been implemented yet in the introductory-level Geology of National Parks course.


There is a slide at the end of the presentation that contains end-of-module questions. The end-of-module questions can be used to examine student understanding and learning gains from the module. Pre/post test, pre/post test answer key, and answer key for end-of-module questions are at the end of the instructor version of the module.

References and Resources