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Earth Day Education

The Global Hydrology and Climate Center celebrates with local students

April 28, 1999: In celebration of Earth Day, scientists at the Global Hydrology and Climate Center in Huntsville, Ala. held an Open House to show local school children how they monitor the health of the environment.

"It's just like fishing!" exclaimed Greg Cox, GHCC scientist and NASA education specialist, as he struggled to reel in a weather balloon.

The scientists had filled the big red balloon with helium and, like a kite on a string, flew the balloon up into the windy air. A camera attached to the balloon sent down video images to a ground receiver, and a television monitor was set up outside so everyone could see the area from the balloon's eye view. With Cox holding the string, the balloon flew up and down, buffeted by strong winds. The school kids enthusiastically tried to keep up with the balloon as it zoomed across the grassy lawn and then raced back up into the sky. All this activity made for rather frenetic-looking video - as others watched the TV monitor they saw a wild montage of children, grass, trees and sky.

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Photo credit: Leslie Mullen, University of Florida for NASA

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But the scientists weren't the only ones teaching that Thursday morning. Second graders from Jones Valley Elementary School showed off their handmade displays and lectured to an interested audience of fifth graders from Williams Elementary. Prompted by questions from their teachers, the second graders explained charts they had designed describing the Global Positioning System (GPS).

One chart, complete with detachable paper satellites, showed the positions of GPS satellites orbiting the Earth. Another student showed off her temperature detector, made from a string, cup and thermometer.

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GHCC scientists Dale Quattrochi and Jeff Luvall carried around more sophisticated temperature detectors. The "Heat Spy" temperature monitors look like ray guns, but they're actually like reverse ray guns because they measure rays rather than shoot them. Pulling the trigger of a Heat Spy gives an instant temperature reading.

"This is a lot like the temperature devices we use onboard a jet to read ground temperature levels," explained Quattrochi. "Of course, those remote devices don't look quite like this."

After pointing at the asphalt (77 degrees Fahrenheit, or 25 deg.Celsius) and the grass (69 deg. F, or 21 deg C), Quattrochi turned the gun on the kids. They watched eagerly as Quattrochi used his Heat Spy to read the surface temperatures off their arms.

"Let me try your head," Quattrochi said to one boy. "Wow, you must be a hothead! It says 86 degrees!" The kids all laughed and a girl asked him to read the temperature off her fingernail polish. He complied, explaining it would also show the temperature from her fingers.

Web Links
The Global Hydrology and Climate Center

Environmental Protection Agency - regulating smog and particle air pollution

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Global Positioning System - NAVSTAR GPS Operations

Earth Day - links to many Earth Day-related sites
Monitoring temperature is an important part of evaluating the health of the environment. Ground-level ozone, a dangerous pollutant, is created through a combination of heat, sunlight, combustion by-products and other organic compounds.

"The good ozone is way up high at the edge of the Earth's atmosphere, whereas the bad ozone is close to the ground," Luvall said. "The ground-level ozone is dangerous because it can scar lungs, and the damage is irreversible."

Luvall explained that planting trees and reducing heat levels in a city can help combat ozone pollution. While the scientists want to reduce ground-level ozone, they also want to ensure that the stratospheric ozone - the "good" ozone that protects us from harmful UV radiation - remains intact.

Atmospheric chemist Bryan Johnson from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration launched a large latex balloon with a payload designed to test levels of stratospheric ozone. Johnson explained that when the balloon reaches a certain height, the change in atmospheric pressure causes it to burst. After the balloon bursts, the ozone-testing payload parachutes down to Earth. The payload includes a reward notice, promising $30 to anyone who finds and returns it to the scientists.

Invigorated by fresh air, balloon chasing and science, everyone headed back to the Global Hydrology and Climate Center.

"Maybe you could be a scientist someday," GHCC scientist Mike Newchurch suggested to one of the fifth graders as they went inside. Pausing a moment to think it over, the boy replied, "I want to be an astronomer."

"Hey!" exclaimed one of the fifth grade girls who overheard the conversation, "I want to be an astronomer!"

Even though they weren't battling to become climatologists, Newchurch replied with a smile, "Well, there'll always be jobs for astronomers, because there'll always be stars."

If the scientists at the Global Hydrology and Climate Center have their way, however, there won't always be problems with the environment. By monitoring the health of the planet and educating younger generations about their efforts, the GHCC scientists are striving to bring that day a little bit closer.

More web links

Every day is Earth Day for climate scientists(April 22, 1999): GHCC researchers will use Landsat 7 images for a closer look at terra firma
Students to learn what's hot at Earth Day celebration(April 22, 1999): Open house at Global Hydrology and Climate Center
More Space Science Headlines - NASA research on the web
NASA's Earth Science Enterprise Information on Earth Science missions, etc.


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For more information, please contact:
Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
Author: Leslie Mullen
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack