June 2008

Teacher Submissions
Partner Announcements

At Last - Summer is Here! (At Least in the Northern Hemisphere)

At last, summer is here - at least in the Northern Hemisphere! While many of you enjoy a well-deserved break from your teaching responsibilities, we'll be busy at work at Windows to the Universe developing new resources to support you this fall. We're excited about a number of new resources we're planning to make available, including a new section called "Poles in Space!" on the poles of planets and moons in the solar system. We also are planning several new Postcards from the Field lines this fall, including joining a team of climbers scaling Annapurna in September and a window to a scientific research campaign taking place in October-November off of the coast of Chile. More news on these exciting expeditions in the July and August newsletters.

Keep an eye for updates in our climate change and atmospheric science sections, as we continue to update and develop new resources in these areas. We are also beginning development of a new section on natural hazards, which should help everyone understand Earth processes which, while sometimes beautiful and fascinating, can also endanger people and animals. We'll keep you posted as these new resources become available.

Phoenix Mars Lander

NASA's latest mission to Mars, the Phoenix lander, touched down near the North Pole of the Red Planet on May 25th, 2008. The robotic probe is searching for water ice that scientists believe is buried just below the surface of the northern polar plains. Phoenix is using its robotic arm to scoop up soil samples, which it analyzes using its sophisticated onboard laboratories. Water is a key ingredient for life as we know it, so detection and analysis of water ice on Mars could be an important step in the ongoing search for life (past or present) on the Red Planet. Click here to learn more about the Phoenix mission and the instruments the spacecraft carries.

A Matter of Scale

From the sub-atomic realm of String Theory to the vast expanses of galactic clusters, "A Matter of Scale" illustrates the incredible range of sizes of objects and phenomena in our amazing Universe. This interactive from the NSF describes and illustrates with stunning images the tremendous range of size scales in the natural world. Check it out by clicking here!

Register Now for Summer Climate Discovery Online Courses!

Classes start June 20 - Register Now!

Are you seeking a K-12 professional development opportunity that will enhance your qualifications, competency, and self-confidence in integrating Earth system science, climate, and global change into your science classroom? This summer, NCAR offers a series of seven-week online courses for middle and high school teachers that combine geoscience content, information about current climate research, easy to implement hands-on activities, and group discussion. The courses run concurrently beginning June 20 and run through August 15.

  • CD 501 Introduction to Earth's Climate is designed to guide participants through the basics of climate science, integrating content, classroom activities, and community-building discussions to help middle and high school educators understand the answers to common questions about climate.
  • CD 502 Earth System Science: A Climate Change Perspective explores Earth as a system from the perspective of climate and global change, describing the interactions between the various parts of the Earth system, including human activities, and how they all affect our climate.
  • CD 503 Understanding Climate Change Today presents some of the current and predicted impacts of global warming on our planet and human societies. This course explores how climate models are developed and used to understand likely scenarios of future climate and how current scientific research is improving the quality of climate predictions.

There is a $200 fee per course. For complete course schedule and registration information, visit ecourses.ncar.ucar.edu

Summer Solstice

The solstice occurs this month on June 21. The solstices (summer and winter) and equinoxes (spring and fall) are astronomical events that mark our seasons. Because of the tilt of Earth's axis, the Sun appears to climb higher (in the summer) and sink lower (in the winter) in the sky as viewed from our planet. A solstice is a time when the Sun momentarily pauses in this apparent migration as it reaches the greatest extremes of its "wanderings" and begins to "move" back in the opposite direction. The word "solstice" comes from two Latin roots: "sol", which means "Sun", and "sistere", which translates as "stand still".

The solstice is commonly referred to as the start of summer (or winter), but it is actually the midway point of the season from an astronomical perspective. Since our planet's atmosphere and oceans "store" heat, temperature extremes tend to lag behind the dates of minimum (or maximum) heating by the Sun, so the coldest part of winter (or hottest part of summer) happens after the solstice. In many cultures the solstices and equinoxes also traditionally determine the midpoint of the seasons, which can be seen in the celebrations called midsummer and midwinter.

The solstices played an important role in traditional cultures. The megalithic structures like Stonehenge and Newgrange are sometimes aligned towards the setting or rising of the Sun on a solstice. In Europe, the celebration of Midsummer's Eve was from ancient times linked to the summer solstice. People believed that plants picked on this night had miraculous and healing powers. It was also widely believed that evil spirits roamed freely and witches congregated during this time. Many Native American tribes held sun worships and festivals to mark summer solstices.

Solar Cycle Variations - Do They Affect Earth's Climate or Weather?

Energy from the Sun affects many things on Earth. One of the main things the Sun does is warm our planet, including the atmosphere. This energy drives much of our weather.

Many scientists wondered if cycles on the Sun affect Earth's weather. Long story short, Sun-weather connections have largely been rejected by the scientific community.

There has also been much speculation and then research to see if solar cycles affect Earth's climate. Solar cycle variations do seem to play a tiny role impacting Earth's climate. Modern climate models take these relationships into account. The changes in solar energy are not big enough, however, to cause the large global temperature changes we've seen in the last 100 years. Indeed, the only way that climate models can match the recent observed warming of the atmosphere is with the addition of greenhouse gases.

The Sunspots and Climate Classroom Activity might help bring these complex ideas into your classroom.

Tornadoes,'Willy-Willys' and 'Dust Devils'!

The word tornado comes from the Latin word TONARE which means "to thunder". Greeks believed that the Greek God Aeolus kept the wind in a cave with a huge rock blocking the entrance. He would open the cave at his whim and when opened, it would produce storms and serious weather conditions! In Australia, an Aboriginal name for a tornado is 'willy-willy'; when they develop in deserts they are known as 'dust devils'.

Heating by the Sun, high and low pressure systems, and Earth's rotation combine to make wind. Tornadoes develop when just the right kind of wind patterns appear! Tornadoes develop with severe thunderstorms known as super cell thunderstorms. These can develop funnel shaped clouds that at first look white because they are made up of water droplets

The rapid rotation may extend downward towards the surface and take the form of a vertical or funnel cloud. When this happens it is referred to as "tornado touch down"! Later the funnel cloud becomes dark due to all the debris that it starts to suck up. The low atmospheric air pressure in the center is like a strong vacuum; it picks up dirt, rocks, tree limbs, and even cars and homes. Due to the small size of the edge of a tornado, a tornado can destroy almost everything in its path, but interestingly enough, it can destroy houses on one side of the street and leave the houses on the other side untouched!

Tornadoes can change direction suddenly, and that makes it very difficult for meteorologists to forecast what will happen, so storm spotters travel around "Tornado Alley" to report severe storms. Tornadoes occur most often during the spring and early summer in the late afternoon and early evening. When the National Weather Service issues a tornado watch, it is because conditions in the atmosphere are indicating the possible formation of tornadoes. A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted or that the circulation in a thunderstorm could produce a tornado. If a tornado warning is issued for your area, you must immediately observe thunderstorm safety procedures! On February 1, 2007, the Enhanced Fujita-Scale went into effect to classify the severity of the wind speed of tornadoes based on damage.

Volcano Erupts in Southern Chile

Chile's Chaitén Volcano erupted on May 2, 2008. The plume of ash and steam rose as high as 20 kilometers into the atmosphere, and ash covered the town of Chaitén, 10 kilometers away. There have been reports of ash as deep as 1.5 meters on the ground in surrounding areas, and it has drifted in the atmosphere over the Andes Mountains, across Argentina, and out over the Atlantic Ocean.

This recent eruption came as a surprise, but this volcano has a history of explosive eruptions, dome building and pyroclastic flows associated with dome collapse. During an eruption, some volcanoes build a dome of lava. Eventually, hot blocks of lava break away from the dome, triggering a fast-moving avalanche of hot volcanic ash, gas, and lava, called a pyroclastic flow. Chaitén remains active and has caused flooding in rivers in southern Chile. Scientists have said that this volcanic eruption will have dramatic impacts on the ecosystems and wildlife of Chile and Argentina.

New Resources to Support Earthquake Education

On May 12, as the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates slid closer to each other, a powerful earthquake struck Sichuan province in southwestern China. The earthquake's seismic waves caused massive damage to built structures such as homes, offices, and, unfortunately, schools. Millions have been affected.

Hazards like earthquakes are a natural part of the Earth's processes. Learning more about how and why they happen, especially after such an event, can be a helpful way to connect students with our planet. And it is, of course, a reminder that the human experience and natural sciences are, perhaps, not so far apart.

New Windows to the Universe content covers a range of earthquake-related topics including:

An overview of The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 combines history and Earth science while profiling the impacts of a California earthquake a century ago. And an online Photo Album of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake provides a pictorial tour of earthquake damage and how people managed after the earthquake and fires had ravaged their city.

And for a hands-on plate tectonics experience, try the Snack Tectonics activity with your classes. In this activity, students make tasty models of plate tectonic motions and then eat the evidence!

Table of Contents

Phoenix Mars Lander
A Matter of Scale
Online Course
Summer Solstice
Solar Cycles-Earth
Earthquake Education

Forecast Earth
Global Challenge
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Forecast Earth Summit - The Weather Channel

The Weather Channel® is hosting the Forecast Earth Summit in Washington DC from December 5-7. They are bringing environmental experts and students together to share ideas and thoughts on major environmental issues. They will select 20 outstanding high school students to be Eco-Ambassadors at this event. Want to get involved? Find out more and apply at The Weather Channel's Forecast Earth Summit web site.

Global Challenge Award - International Earth Science Olympiad

Students now have until June 1 to take a free online assessment that could qualify them for a place on the U.S. team at the International Earth Science Olympiad (IESO) in the Philippines in August 2008. IESO is open to U.S. secondary school students who will not be more than 18 years old on July 1. The competition is organized by an Earth Science Week partner, The Global Challenge Award, which covers selected students travel, lodging, participation, and conference fees. For more information or to take the online assessment, see The Global Challenge Award.

The American Geological Institute is a nonprofit federation of 44 geoscientific and professional associations that represents more than 120,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in the profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education, and strives to increase public awareness of the vital role the geosciences play in society’s use of resources and interaction with the environment.

British Society for the History of Science - mailing list

A mailing list, BSHS-OEC-NEWS@jiscmail.ac.uk, has been set up for those interested in hearing the latest news about the activities of the British Society for the History of Science Outreach and Education Committee. Postings will contain details of events and activities including:

  • The annual competition (this year - 'Designing Darwin')
  • Public lectures and debates
  • Bursaries for conferences
  • Collaborations with the British Association Festival of Science
  • Pilot projects currently under development
  • Downloadable educational resources for use at home, in schools and
  • One-off events of history of science-themed theatre and music
  • News of related educational activities in the international community of historians of science, technology, and medicine

To join the list subscribe to BSHS-OEC-NEWS on the jiscmail pages at www.jiscmail.ac.uk/lists/BSHS-OEC-NEWS.html

Further information from Melanie Keene (mjk32@cam.ac.uk), BSHS Outreach and Education Committee.

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The source of this material is Windows to the Universe, at http://www.windows.ucar.edu/ at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). © 1995-1999, 2000 The Regents of the University of Michigan; © 2000-07 University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. All Rights Reserved.