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post May 23 2005, 09:00 PM
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TREC Teacher

Group: TREC Team
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So, this may be difficult to do, but in order to prepare my students for the TREC season, I would love to be able to explain to them what the other projects are about. If I am able to explain the projects to them, they are much more apt to ask questions that are "productive" and scientific which are much more fun to answer than "How cold is it?" I know that projects may still be confusing to everyone, but I know that my work last year became much more clear to me when I sat down with Max and hammered out language so that 10 year old kids could understand why we were collecting samples on the rivers and how the samples were connected to global warming.

I also know that everyone is busy, however, I am hoping that maybe between researchers and teachers, we could get some posts that explain the project in real elementary terms. I know it would help get my elementary school class more involved, and I think that simple language is good for the general public too.

This is just an idea that I would love to see happen. Here is how I set it up for the PARTNERS Project that I worked on last year.....


The Big Picture—How Are These Water Samples Connected to Global Warming?

Before I even begin there are two pieces of information you have to know:
1.) Global Temperatures have increased in the last 100 years by 0.6° C
2.) The Carbon Dioxide Level in the Atmosphere has increased in the last 100 years, largely due to human activities (mainly burning oil and gas and coal):

Here is what the PARTNERS Scientists Think:
1.) The global temperatures have increased due to the increased level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.
2.) Due to global temperature increases, there has been more precipitation falling in the pan-arctic watershed.
3.) Increased precipitation has increased the discharge of the six largest arctic rivers. These rivers eventually empty into the Arctic Ocean.

So this is what the PARTNERS scientists are doing:
1.) Collecting data about the amount of discharge coming from these six major arctic rivers.
2.) Analyzing the water to learn such things as where the water is coming from (groundwater vs. precipitation).
3.) Finding the “fingerprint” of the water, or finding things out about the water in each river that makes it unique so that they can use that “fingerprint” to trace the water once it gets into the Arctic Ocean to see what happens to it.

Why is this important? What does it have to do with Global Climate Change?
1.) If there is a lot more river water dumping into the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic Ocean is going to get less salty—there will be more fresh water in it.
2.) Arctic Ocean water flows into the North Atlantic Ocean near Greenland.
3.) Salty cold water is dense, so the cold and salty water of the North Atlantic Ocean sinks to great depths and starts a current where deep cold water moves from the North Atlantic to the warm parts of the Atlantic Ocean (near the equator), and then warms up, floats to the top and moves back North.
4.) So if the Arctic Ocean water gets less salty, it won’t be as dense and it may stop the sinking near Greenland. That could cause the current that runs from the North Atlantic to the tropical Atlantic Ocean to stop flowing. If that current shuts down, there won’t be as much warm water in the North Atlantic so the North Atlantic Ocean will get a lot colder.
4.) If the North Atlantic gets colder, Western Europe will also get colder. The weather that hits Europe moves over the North Atlantic before it goes to Europe, so if the ocean gets colder so will Europe.

Who Cares?
1.) If this happens, the cooling in Europe would lead to a much shorter growing season, meaning that they would not be able to produce as much food. This could have huge impacts on millions of people and would be an example of how human activities are impacting the whole earth system.
2.) Those of us that burn a lot of fuel (the United States is the biggest burner of fuels that release carbon dioxide) might begin to think about other ways to heat our homes, power our machinery and cars. We might also give more thought to how much we are willing to sacrifice to keep the earth in balance.


So.....by sampling and analyzing the water in the Lena River (as well as the other pan-arctic rivers) scientists will learn more about where the extra water is coming from and they will be able to trace where the river waters go once they leave the river and go into the ocean. In the long run, these analyzes may be able to tell us if the water is cold and salty enough to still sink and cause that current to run, or if there isn’t as much water sinking and the current may shut down.
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