Saturday, November 13, 2010

Module VI: Atmospheric Systems Introduction

What new learning/reflections have you taken from this module?

In playing around with the Google Earth weather layer, I noticed the webcam layer as well.  On the left, is a screen shot of the weather layer image on Tuesday.  It's hard to see but there are little icons that link to webcams in different locations.  Below is an image of the Valdez webcam on that same day.  We were in the midst of our first good snowfall.  It's handy to have these resources in one place.

In addition to learning about the weather layer in Google Earth and gaining resources for weather-related images, much of the information in the Cultural Connections section was new to me.  I knew about biomagnification, how animals higher up the food chain have higher concentrations of toxins.  I didn't realize that most of those toxins were being carried from lower latitudes north by ocean and wind currents that increased the amount of toxins in the arctic.  Especially alarming was the assertion that Barrow has the highest levels of reactive mercury measured on earth, Contaminants in the Arctic Food Chain.  

I knew about the albedo effect but didn't know about the ice-albedo feedback loop until watching Arctic Haze.  The fact that pollutants are darkening snow and ice and so causing them to absorb more heat is new to me.  I also didn't know that aerosols in the atmosphere were causing more and smaller cloud droplets causing clouds to be more reflective so that they'd heat the earth's surface more here in the north.  All of this information speaks again to how connected we all are on this planet.

How would you use the resources in this week's module in your lessons?  How useful are the resources in this week's module?
As I work more often as a consultant to teachers and don't have a classroom of my own this year, I find that these two questions are often linked as I go through these modules.  This week I'll try answering them in tandem.  I could speak to the value of several of the resources in Module VI but I'll highlight the power of just a few. 

The TD interactive Giving Rise to the Jet Stream is good one for breaking apart all of the factors that cause the jet stream.  It's easier to process these factors (high and low pressure systems, earth's spin, movement of warm tropical air to the poles and back again, etc.) one by one.  Also, seeing created, moving visuals helps deepen understanding.  As textbook images are static, they're limited in helping students understand dynamic forces.

Not all students easily create visualizations of what they read so I really see these interactives as a tool to reach more students.   The TD 5-Day View of the Jet Stream and YouTube video Water Vapor Circulation would be good follow-ups to Giving Rise the the Jet Stream as these images allow you to see the interplay of jet stream forces in action.  Students could discuss factors they think are causing the changes they see happening. 

The Jet Stream and Horizontal Temperature Gradient could help students construct knowledge about how temperatures at the equator affect wind speeds at different latitudes and longitudes.  Textbook learning is so passive and there's real power in students being able to discover concepts for themselves.  Having student use Google Earth's weather layer, or NASA images, to search for weather pattern images could be a good constructivist lesson and a good assessment of understanding.  Speaking of assessments, NASA has some great global warming quizzes that connect to learning about atmospheric systems as information in past modules.

Finally, I appreciate the TD video Ocean Temperatures and Climate Patterns' inclusion again in this module.  It was good to revisit it with eye for atmospheric effects rather than ocean system effects this time.  Having students create a venn diagram to compare oceanic and atmospheric systems would be a good way to help students see the connection between the two systems.

As most of the families I work with use textbook-based programs to teach science, I see these TD resources being really valuable to help deepen their students' learning.  Google Earth will be a great tool to alternately bring that learning home and connect it on a global scale.

3 Colleagues' Blogs
I related to what Dave said on his Explore Alaska blog about meeting many people in Alaska who don't believe global warming is a real phenomenon.  I work with many people who are skeptics.  The free iphone app Skeptical Science was just recommended to me to help when negotiating this issue with students and families.  There is a corresponding Skeptical Science website as well.  I agree with you that I want to be respectful of others' values and opinions; however, I don't want that to diminish teaching opportunities for students.  There's a careful balance to be achieved in many concepts we come across in the classroom.

I, like Dan Adair, was also embarrassed that I hadn't realized that industrial pollutants from the south were being seen in animals here in Alaska.  Especially since I knew that there were high levels of things like mercury in fish in the arctic.  Thanks for the tip on adding external links to Teacher's Domain folders, very helpful.

Like Tyler mentioned on his Alaskanwisdom site,  I also have spent time in and around Fairbanks and easily pictured haze coming from our own car exhaust and wood and coal stoves.  You made a great connection between weather patterns and subsistence when talking about deer hunting. 


  1. You figured out how to use Google Earth's weather layers. I'm still trying, but honestly this week was so busy, I didn't have that much time to spend on it. But your photos and cam picture of Valdez have inspired me to figure it out.

  2. Janet,
    Thanks for the link to skeptical science. It's always good to have more answers to climate change naysayers. Funny, you don't find too many of the naysayers on the North Slope. Great idea to coordinate the webcam shots with the Google Earth weather shots.

  3. I liked that you used the webcam layer on Google Earth. I too am trying to explore with Google Earth and hope that I am able to figure it out.

    I also liked your ideas of how to use these resources, your ideas are some things I am going to share with teachers here at my site.

  4. Janet,

    I didn't notice the layer on Google Earth for the webcams. I will check it out. That is really a great resource to have. Thanks!