Eyes across the globe

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Radioactive Cloud Linked to Russia / View Guide

Directions for teachers: By collecting and analyzing a variety of data from distant sites, global monitoring networks can watch for potential threats around the world. The Science News article “Radioactive cloud traced to Russia” summarizes how a “network of atmospheric monitoring sites across Europe” detected and tracked a radioactive plume.

This discussion will focus on three global monitoring networks. Either for homework or in class, ask students to read the brief background provided below on the three networks and split students into groups, assigning one of the networks to each group. Have students go to the link provided to learn more about the network’s data-collection process and answer the data questions below. Come together as a class to share observations and answer the three summarizing questions.

For more educator resources on climate change data, check out the February 18, 2017 educator guide, “2016 shattered Earth’s heat record.”

Brief overviews of three global monitoring networks

The Global Seismographic Network formed in 1986 as a partnership between the United States Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (a consortium of universities). The network has 150 stations across the globe that detect and record seismic vibrations. Data are collected by seismometers and accessible through the IRIS’s Station Monitor app. Learn more about the IRIS’s data at www.iris.edu/app/station_monitor/#2019-08-06/LD-SDMD/help-section/

The Global Ocean Observing System, or GOOS, was established in 1991 by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The network collects data that impact three main areas: monitoring climate, operational services such as weather forecasts and hazard warnings, and marine ecosystem health. An array of floats with various sensors, called Argo, is one of the sources of data. Lean more about Argo data at www.argo.ucsd.edu/Argo_date_guide.html#gtsusers

The Global Environment Monitoring System for freshwater, known as GEMS/Water, began in 1978 as a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In 2014, the United Nations Environment Assembly deemed the GEMS/Water data as integral to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The system monitors surface water and groundwater quality. Learn more about GEMS/Water data at gemstat.org/about

Data questions for small groups

Answers are included for the Global Seismographic Network example and can be used as a reference for the depth of answers students should be providing.

  • Explore the website provided in the brief overview and give an example of a type of data collected. Don’t forget to include the appropriate unit(s) of measurement and how the data is displayed.

The network collects data from seismometers that measure the speed of the motion of the ground in nanometers per second. This data is displayed on a seismogram.

  • How do you think this type of data is collected? Is there a physical device in the location or is data collected by a satellite or other remote device?

The data is collected by seismometers, which are physical devices that measure ground motions at the location where they are installed.

  • What general information could be gained from analyzing trends in the data? What types of issues could the monitoring system prevent or warn against?

By analyzing trends in the data, scientists may be able to predict and warn against potentially catastrophic volcanic eruptions or earthquake aftershocks, for example.

  • What type of science background would be needed to monitor the data?

A seismologist is a scientist who studies the motion within the Earth by monitoring seismic waves, but anyone with a background in earth science and who knows how to read and interpret a seismogram would be able to monitor the data.

  • Describe how the data could be used on an international scale.

Student answers will vary. Data from one area could be used to argue for the evacuation of a different area due to signs that a volcanic eruption is imminent. Data could also be used to predict the impact of seismic events in different areas around the world, which could allow governments and international organizations to mobilize and send relief if necessary.

Summarizing questions for the class

Student answers will vary for the questions that follow. Try to encourage students from each group to participate in the group discussion.

  1. What is the purpose of any global network?
  2. Why is the international nature of these networks important? How might geopolitical relations or cultural differences affect these types of efforts?
  3. Brainstorm a monitoring network that would be useful that isn’t included in this list. Do you know if it currently exists? What would be the purpose and benefits of this type of monitoring network?