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Graphs and the Composition of Earth's Thermosphere

Students will be able to interpret and analyze various graphs concerning the composition of the Earth's thermosphere. Materials:

Students will need:


Developed by Gayl Bintner with support from NCAR's High Altitude Observatory and the staff of UCAR's Education & Outreach Program.
Grade level:
90 minutes
Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will be able to interpret various individual graphs concerning the composition of the Earth's thermosphere.
  • Students will be able to analyze how atmospheric composition changes with altitude.
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast the various components of the Earth's thermosphere.
  • Students will be able to compare and contrast the components of the Earth's thermosphere to the Earth's ionosphere.
Lesson format:
Graph Interpretation, Reading and Writing

Standards Addressed:


  1. Directions for hard copy and internet use.


There are two different sets of background information. The first set is from Windows to the Universe website at This background is more general and deals with all layers of the atmosphere. A hard copy of this general background without visuals can be printed and used with students.

A more detailed set of background information concerning the upper atmosphere is available from the COMET/HAO/UCAR website at The background information provided at this site is at a post high school reading level and assumes that students have a working knowledge of meteorology.

A version that has been adapted to a high school reading level can be printed and used with students. This site has many interactive graphs that should be visited by students when using the adapted background information. Web addresses are supplied within the background information.


Other activities related to graphing and Earth's atmosphere:

Last modified May 27, 2005 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA