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It Takes a Village

Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The elementary school student wondering how El Niño will affect tomorrow's weather. The scientist studying connections between ozone and climate change. And the farmer using satellite pictures to keep track of crops. All of these people are Earth Explorers -- they are all curious about the Earth system. This series will introduce you to NASA Earth Explorers, young and old, with many backgrounds and interests.

The date was Dec. 26, 2004. A massive earthquake had just rocked the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Some scientists feared that a dangerous tsunami could follow. But there were holes in the global system for spreading word of the potential threat.

Hours later, a monster tsunami hit several countries in South Asia. Many people in those areas had no idea it was coming. The lack of warning likely led to many of the more than 150,000 deaths.

Even before the tsunami, U.S. and Denmark students were learning how important it is to share science data.

A satellite image of a hurricane coming ashore on the eastern coast of the United States. The image shows cloud layers as well as ultraviolet information in bright colors.
Image to left: Geographic information systems allow data from many sources to be layered on a single map. Credit: Burlington County Institute of Technology

It was two years ago that Jens Jensen came to the United States to visit John Moore. Jensen is a high school geography teacher in Denmark. And Moore teaches a class about science and satellites at a high school in New Jersey.

The two of them came up with a plan. Both would have their classes conduct Earth science projects. Then, each would travel with two students to the other teacher's school to present the work. The projects would involve GIS, satellites images and other data. GIS stands for "geographic information systems." These are tools that allow different kinds of data to be displayed on the same map.

The U.S. students did two projects. First, they studied how NASA satellites, wind observations and other data could be used to follow fumes if a tanker truck were to explode. Second, they tracked a hurricane with data from satellites, ocean buoys and other sources.

The Denmark students focused on something else. They looked at soil and other land data to see if farming was polluting the local water supply.

Students in both countries learned a lot from working on the projects. But they learned even more when they visited each other.

Justin Davison and Darryl Dorofy were the lucky U.S. students picked to go to Denmark. They got to see how similar data and tools could be used in different ways in each country.

Teacher Mr. Moore stands to the left of a student poster project showing various satellite images of different locations as two students stand to the right of the project
Image to right: Mr. Moore (left) chose Justin (right) and Darryl (center) to go to Denmark to present their science project. Credit: NASA

"We would show [the Denmark students] our projects and also give them examples of how they could use GIS in their everyday life," Davison said.

"What we had the opportunity to do was actually show them another part of the world using tools and sources of data that they were familiar with," added Dorofy.

Moore credits a program called GLOBE with making it easier for students in different parts of the world to collect and share the same kinds of data. GLOBE is sponsored by NASA and the National Science Foundation. Participants observe the land, air, water and life. Then they report their measurements to the GLOBE Web site, which can be accessed by anyone. (GLOBE data was used in both of the U.S. student projects. And Jensen used to run Denmark's GLOBE program.)

"It is well accepted that most environmental problems are of a global nature," Moore said. "Therefore, their solutions are also global."

After their trip to Denmark, Dorofy and Davison understand this, too.

"I feel that it's important to be able to share environmental data," Davison said.

Dorofy added, "We have a responsibility to preserve the planet in which we live. And the only way we can do so is [by not acting alone], but rather as a global community."

See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies