For her high school graduation project, Stamatina Hunter investigated the impact of sun and Earth cycles on global warming. She used NASA data in her research, including information from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center on sunspot activity and images from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to compare the extremes of the sun's activity cycle.
"The majority of my project I used data from NASA, or NASA-supported sites, and I had a lot of information," Hunter said.
The project won first place in its category at the school science fair and led to recognition for Hunter from the U.S. Army and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She also received a scholarship from the American Meteorological Society. Hunter is using the scholarship to attend Penn State University where she is studying meteorology.
The global warming investigation was not the first time Hunter used information from NASA in a research project. As a high school junior, she compared images from NASA's Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment, or GRACE, satellite with images from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission for a project about the effects of the monsoon season on India's gravitational pull.
Her research indicated a correlation between the effects of the monsoon season and India's gravitational pull. "In India, during the monsoon season, some of the water becomes trapped in underground aquifers, adding to the area's mass. And when an area's mass is larger, then the gravitational pull will be greater," she said. "The increase is small, but significant enough to document."
Hunter's sun activity project investigated the causes of global warming and climate change, a hot topic right now among scientists.
"I was hearing a lot about it (global warming) being primarily man-made -- people were causing our climate to change because of the burning of fossil fuels and things that would put CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and I was kind of a little confused, because I thought, 'There's got to be something a little bit deeper, something a little bit more than that, than just to say (there's only) one factor,'" Hunter said. "We know our planet is so complex. And there's so many different cycles occurring at the same time, over long periods of time and short periods of time, and I just thought that maybe there's something more natural and more cyclic occurring."
Hunter focused primarily on the solar cycle and the Milankovitch cycles. Milankovitch cycles are a set of patterns in Earth's movement that affect the climate. She concluded that while these cycles impact temperatures on Earth, there are many variables causing Earth to heat up.
"I think a lot of other things (are) going on," Hunter said. "Scientists are looking at volcanic activity, the movement of tectonic plates, even the carbon cycle and its fluctuation. So I just focused on the solar cycle and Milankovitch cycles, and to me, I had found a mostly positive correlation between the solar cycle and our increased temperature over the past century or so."
The research projects stemmed from Hunter's involvement in the Earth System Science Research course taught at Catoctin High School in Thurmont, Md. The course is available to Catoctin students through a partnership between Frederick County Public Schools and Goddard Space Flight Center.
Students use data from NASA Earth science experiments to research their own topics and answer scientific questions. The course culminates with students presenting their findings to NASA scientists and touring Goddard Space Flight Center. Educational partnerships between schools and NASA centers support the agency's goal of attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Hunter said the projects prepared her for more in-depth investigations by making her more comfortable with the research process. She learned how to conduct a science investigation and how to communicate her findings in a way that people can understand.
"It was definitely a very big learning process for me, and I feel a lot more confident and a lot more comfortable now that I've actually done a project on my own," Hunter said.
Hunter hopes to continue her research about global warming and other Earth phenomena as she studies meteorology in college.
"There are still so many things that I don't really know," she said. "There are many things that the scientists don't even really know about our planet and what's going on. And I would love to really pursue that and get to the bottom of things and uncover new findings and make discoveries. ... I want to know as much as I can about our planet and what's going on, so that I can make some predictions and make some accurate hypotheses."
Her long-range career plans may include weather forecasting on television or storm-chasing hurricanes and tornadoes. "Or even just being a research scientist," she said. "I could really see myself going in either direction right now. ... I'm just ready for anything. I'm excited."
NASA Education Web Site →
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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NASA Student Opportunities Podcast: Stamatina Hunter
Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services