The Globe Carbon Cycle project is one of four Earth System Science Projects (ESSPs) funded by NASA and NSF to develop hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science activities for the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program.

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GLOBE Carbon Cycle Project FAQs

What is the Carbon Cycle project about?
GLOBE Carbon Cycle is focused on bringing cutting edge research and research techniques in the field of terrestrial ecosystem carbon cycling into the classroom. Students will collect data about vegetation at their school field site, and participate in classroom activities to understand the collected data. In addition to the traditional GLOBE experience, students will have the opportunity to integrate their data with emerging and expanding technologies including global and local carbon cycle models and carbon visualization tools such as maps and satellite imagery. This program design will allow students to explore research questions from local to global scales with both present and future environmental conditions.

Why should we be interested in the carbon cycle?
Carbon is the most abundant element in living things and accounts for approximately 50% of the total mass of plants and animals. Carbon is also present in Earth's land, atmosphere and oceans and, over time, is cycled between all of these components of the environment. The carbon cycle has a large impact on Earth, both globally and locally. At a global scale, the carbon cycle influences Earth's climate and is a key factor keeping ecological systems in balance. Locally, the carbon cycle plays a large role in basic ecological processes such as plant growth and accumulation, as well as the death and decay of plant material. The carbon cycle also includes carbon that is in molecules of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a principal greenhouse gas and the primary cause of climate change. Because ecosystems across the land surface store as much carbon as the atmosphere, carbon taken up by plants and soils plays an important role in regulating climate. With climate change at the forefront of both science and policy discussions, a better understanding of all aspects of the carbon cycle is needed. Students involved in the GLOBE Carbon Cycle project will not only contribute to our current state of scientific knowledge, they will also be filling society's growing need for informed citizens and trained professionals in future generations.

Who can participate?
Because the carbon cycle is of global importance, a goal of this project is to allow participation by the whole international education community.

What data will be used?
Models require data inputs (e.g. climate, vegetation type). Basic model input data is available for most global ecosystems based on previously published studies through our searchable database using latitude and longitude.

In addition to model inputs, student collected data such as tree diameter and calculated data such as biomass and carbon storage will be used to assess site level carbon budgets and compare them to other GLOBE school sites, calculate student or school carbon footprints, and perform other analyses that students find interesting.

What do the students do?
Students will collect data on vegetation to establish biomass and carbon estimates for their local ecosystems. They may also collect data on temperature, precipitation and other types of data to expand the breadth of their research investigation. Students will then be able to analyze their data comparing it to previous results or with data collected by other schools around the world. Students will also use models and visualization tools (maps and satellite imagery) to look at patterns of data at different spatial and temporal scales. The performance of these tasks will be focused on answering larger research questions about the role terrestrial ecosystems play in the carbon cycle. Students will have the opportunity to look at questions that scientists ask in their daily work, as well as to ask their own questions. Students will be encouraged to explore and answer these questions through individual and group research projects.

What grade levels can participate?
Activities are specifically geared toward high school students (ages 14-18), but many can be easily modified for middle school classrooms (student ages 12-14).

What is the duration?
There will be a variety of Carbon Cycle activities, which may range widely in their completion time. Individual activities are largely designed with the 45-60min class period in mind, but can easily flow into homework assignments and following class periods. The duration of the whole unit will depend on which activities you select based on teaching goals and prior student skills and knowlege.

What technology is needed to participate (computer, internet access, software, etc.)?
Because resources for the distribution of printed materials are limited and because a focus of the GLOBE Carbon Cycle project is on emerging and expanding technologies, a computer will be required for both the distribution of materials and many of the activities. At this time the internet will be the only way to access project information. Microsoft Excel, or a similar spreadsheet program (open office) and the isee player (for modeling activities) will be the only necessary software for most activities.