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S'COOL: Researcher News Article

Elementary Students Keep Their Heads in the Clouds

By Catherine E. Watson

During the school day, most teachers prefer that their students keep their heads in the classroom. At two local elementary schools, however, teachers are encouraging their students to keep their heads in the clouds.

Fourth graders at Poquoson Elementary School and sixth graders at Peasley Middle School in Gloucester are learning to observe clouds as part of a NASA Langley global cloud measuring project - the Students' Cloud Observations On-Line (S'COOL) project. The S'COOL project is designed to provide ground-based cloud measurements in support of a Langley-developed satellite experiment that will be launched in November.

The students' initial cloud observations are being compared to data taken from a weather satellite orbiting the Earth. Later this year, after the students have perfected their cloud observing techniques, they will make cloud observations that Langley researchers can compare to their new satellite experiment, the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) instrument.

Researchers from the Radiation Sciences Branch taught the students how to determine the types of clouds above their school, the clouds' altitudes and how much of the sky is covered by clouds at the time of their observation. The students, working in teams, form a consensus of their observations. Then, via the Internet, the students place their data in the Langley Atmospheric Sciences Data Center (ASDC) where the data is stored for further analysis.

Carol Mitchell, a fourth grade teacher at Poquoson Elementary School said, "I know [the students are] learning things. They've learned all the way across the curriculum. Their math skills are involved, all their language arts skills are involved; their comparison skills, their observing skills are sharpened. I've seen a lot of good things happen with this [program]." David Young, a researcher in the Radiation Sciences Branch and a mentor to the students, said, "it's a great opportunity for students to get involved in a real scientific project with real scientists."

CERES will be a follow-on to Langley's highly successful Earth Radiation Budget Experiment that was launched in 1984. CERES is designed to provide long-term global data on the Earth's clouds and energy budget, and will be launched in November aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite as part of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program.

Young said, "Clouds are important because they help modulate the climate. We're looking for signals from possible global warming, and it's been shown that clouds are a very important aspect [of global warming]."

Lin Chambers, a researcher in the Radiation Sciences Branch, said, "One of the hardest jobs for CERES is the determination of clear sky; that's the easiest part of the observation for the kids. S'COOL observations will allow us to improve the CERES clear sky algorithms and help the kids understand how clouds connect to climate."

Young said, "At the time we're making cloud observations (with CERES) we're going to have students across the country making observations of cloud amount and cloud height that we can use to help validate our measurements." Chambers said, "So far, I have schools in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Georgia, Arizona, New York and, of course, Virginia." The Langley researchers also plan to enlist students worldwide to observe clouds for the S'COOL project. Chambers added, "I'm already working with contacts in Chile, South Africa, Korea, Australia and the Philippines for later global tests. The importance of global coverage is that we need to compare to satellite results in as many different places as possible."