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Turtles, Dolphins and Seals, Oh My!
Who Are NASA's Earth Explorers?

The student thinking about El Niño. The scientist studying climate. And the farmer looking at satellite images. All of these people are Earth Explorers. They're all curious about how Earth works. This is a story about a NASA Earth Explorer.

Picture of a harp seal swimming upside down in a deep blue ocean
Image above: Harp seals love to swim in the sea. Credit: Signals of Spring
Arty has a lot of young fans out there. Some can't go a day without checking in on him.

No, Arty is not a TV show character. He's not a stuffed toy, either. Arty is a harp seal swimming in the sea. And many kids can't get enough of him.

Middle school kids at Ann Street School are no exception. Ann Street is in Newark, N.J. Kids there are hot on the trail of harp seals. They also keep track of other sea and land animals. These animals are all over the world. There are eagles, turtles, dolphins, swans and more.

How do the kids follow so many animals at once? Each animal wears a small tag. The tag sends out a signal. And the signal tells satellites where the animal is. The data is then shown on maps that kids look at on the Web. This is all part of a NASA project called Signals of Spring.

Kids don't just watch where the animals go. They also try to guess what path they'll take. They do this by looking at different kinds of maps. A weather map might show why a bird flew south and not north. Or a map of sea temperature might show why a seal slowed down.

A large map with a harp seal pictured on top
Image above: This map shows all the places Arty has been. Credit: NASA
Most work for the project is done on computer. This makes it easy to forget the animals are real. That's why Ann Street kids take a field trip before they start the project. They go out on a boat and look for eagles. Later, the kids can think back to when they saw the eagles. It reminds them how real the Signals of Spring animals are.

At the end of the project, kids present the work they did. Some write papers. Others write children's books. And some make videos or act out skits. Sometimes they get to show their work to scientists. Or to teachers at other schools.

Kids from Ann Street have even won science contests with their projects. A science teacher at the school thinks that's great. But he says the best prize is how the kids feel after they finish the project. He says they feel like they've done real science. Something an adult would do.

See previous Earth Explorers articles:
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Related Resources
Signals of Spring
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The Space Place: Migration Concentration
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies