August 25, 2005
NORFORK — Past the classrooms at Norfork's Arrie Goforth Elementary, near the swings and slides of the playground, sits a white box with a pole sticking out of it. From that unique-looking contraption comes invaluable information that is used by scientists around the world.
The white box is a weather station. Each school day, students measure temperature, rainfall, cloud cover, wind direction and a variety of other variables.
The students in Wade Geery's science classes recently reached the milestone of 100,000 measurements through a program called GLOBE.
GLOBE is a hands-on international science program. Its current database has more than 10 million environmental observations that have been reported by students worldwide. The program covers five main areas — atmosphere, hydrology, soils, land cover/biology and phenology.
Taylor Gardener, 11, said his favorite part of science class is checking the daily temperatures.
"We get the current temperature, minimum temperature and maximum temperature," he said, donning a gray Norfork GLOBE T-shirt given out by Geery. "We check the rain gauge, too. I just like gathering all of it."
Classmate Cory Cook said he likes getting away from his desk and going outside. He also has learned a few things by participating in the activities.
"I've learned how to read a thermometer," the 11-year-old said. "I didn't know how to read one before (this class)."
Norfork schools began the GLOBE program in 1999. The now sixth-grade students were in kindergarten when GLOBE kicked off, while the current seniors were in sixth grade that first year, collecting more than 6,000 measurements.
Sixteen-year-old Kendra Rand said she remembers taking field trips to gather water samples and going outside to write down temperatures.
"We would look at the clouds and identify what kind they were," she said. "We would take temperatures, too. It helped me because I cannot just read things and understand them. I like to actually see things."
Geery said all students get involved in the hands-on aspect of the program. Most of the data is collected by automated digital hardware.
"Each grade does something, whether it is counting hummingbirds that visit their feeders, measuring the size of leaves as they sprout each spring, or recording the color and date that leaves drop in the fall," he said. "By the time students reach the sixth grade, they can tackle metric measurements, all the weather instruments and even conduct water quality titrations, and do each equally well."
The information gathered isn't only for educational purposes. Scientists use the data to validate figures collected from other sources and predict patterns or trends.
Colorado State University scientist Matt Rogers said he is working on a project that compares GLOBE student observations of clouds to satellite pictures.
"By looking at areas where the two observations differ, we are learning about how to improve both surface and satellite observations of clouds," he said. "As you may know, satellite observations of clouds are very important to many aspects of atmospheric science, from assessing climate change to forecasting next week's weather, and we're constantly looking for new ways to make better and more accurate satellite observations. In order to do that, we need lots of surface stations to compare with, and GLOBE schools fit the bill perfectly."
Rogers noted that data gathered from Twin Lakes Area schools as well as schools around the world have been used in scientific studies.
Geery said last month at the ninth annual GLOBE meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, Norfork was recognized for its accuracy in gathering data. He said students' recording of figures using inexpensive solar photometers was almost equal in quality to that of data available to the government from its most sensitive equipment, costing many thousands of dollars.
Dr. David Brooks, GLOBE scientist and research professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, reported on Norfork's program at the Prague meeting and has worked with Geery's classes numerous times. He said his presentation included every sun photometer measurement submitted by Geery's students over a specific time period.
"Although I have no doubt that a lot of 'data filtering' went on at the teacher end, it is nonetheless extremely rare to find such a reliable source of sun photometer measurements," he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday to The Bulletin. "This is especially remarkable considering the age of Wade's students. Sun photometer measurements are used to calculate aerosol optical thickness — a measure of the concentration of aerosols in the atmosphere. It is especially interesting to see reliable aerosol data from a rural area such as Norfork."
Geery is constantly planning for the future of the school's GLOBE program. He said he would like to involve other organizations in local environmental investigations while continuing to strive for accuracy.
"If we can be as accurate as the scientists are, then we are learning real science," he said. "You can't get any better than that."