What are the Winds Blowing into Mammoth Cave?

Module by: Dorien K. McGee, University of South Florida

Bobby Carson and Jonathan Jernigan, Mammoth Cave National Park

Cover Page by: Len Vacher and Amie O. West, University of South Florida

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


This Spreadsheets Across the Curriculum activity introduces Geology of National Park students to the flow of air and pollutants into and out of Mammoth Cave. Students will estimate the net volume of pollutants flowing into the Houchin's Narrows entrance of Mammoth Cave using actual air quality data from the park. The intent of the module is to have students recognize the benefits and drawbacks of modeling, while gaining an understanding of how surface air quality can affect the cave environment.

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:

  • Use actual data from Mammoth Cave National Park to explore the quantity of airborne pollutant affecting the cave.
  • Learn what influences air flow in Mammoth Cave.
  • Learn how pollutants are drawn into the cave system.
  • Explore the seasonal variation of airflow at Mammoth Cave.
  • Learn the precise definition of the term flux.

In the process the students will:

  • Learn to distinguish between modeling and estimation.
  • Understand the benefits and drawbacks to using models to understand environmental processes and predict impacts.
  • Perform complex unit conversions.
  • Know how to interpret trends represented in x-y scatter plots.

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 (vacher@usf.edu) 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.


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