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GLOBE promotes science education at thousands of schools.

As coastal areas in Southeast Asia begin to recover from the devastating 2004 tsunami, Thai scientists and teachers working with an international program known as GLOBE are launching a series of unique field projects along their country’s coast. Schoolchildren—some of whom lost their schools to the deadly waves—will study the impacts of the tsunami on the local environment.

The projects will enable scientists to learn more about the recovery of marine invertebrates, the impacts of a natural disaster on water quality, and other issues. At the same time, students will learn more about research methods, and they and their communities will gain a deeper knowledge of the environment and how to best protect it.

“Their awareness is going to be heightened,” predicts Pornpun Waitayangkoon, coordinator of the GLOBE program in Thailand.


The city of Meulaboh on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, was hit hard by the tsunami. (U.S. Navy photo by photographer’s mate 3rd Class Jennifer Rivera.)

GLOBE, which stands for Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment, is an education and science program supported by NASA, NSF, and the State Department, and operated by UCAR in cooperation with Colorado State University. The program, which the U.S. government created in the 1990s, encompasses teachers and students from thousands of primary and secondary schools in more than 105 countries. Through GLOBE, students learn about science and the environment by making regular observations of weather and other natural events and posting them on the Internet. Their reports provide a unique data set of the local atmosphere, hydrology, soils, and land cover.

“GLOBE gets a lot of kids interested in science,” explains Jack Fellows, a principal investigator of GLOBE. “As they do observations and experiments, collect data, and analyze results, they begin to understand what science is all about.”

GLOBE advances science education by augmenting teacher training, developing research protocols for students, and administering a vast database of scientific findings. (Photo courtesy GLOBE.)

Supporting students and science

GLOBE advances science education by augmenting teacher training, developing research protocols for students, and administering a vast database of scientific findings. It also provides a wide variety of Web-based services and resources and organizes conferences that bring together students and teachers from around the world.

Students taking part in a GLOBE project are given specific guidelines, formulated by scientists, on how to conduct such research as monitoring water quality or identifying certain types of clouds. These protocols also specify the types of field and lab instruments that they should use.

The research has produced a reliable database of more than 13 million environmental measurements. Scientists have used GLOBE observations to learn more about contrail clouds, verify satellite observations, and identify areas at risk for flooding.

The research also can benefit local communities. For example, student analyses of soil conditions have helped farmers make planting decisions and increase their yields.

Now that the program is established worldwide, UCAR and its partners plan to reshape it in subtle but important ways. The program will provide new opportunities for local scientists and schools to work with large-scale Earth science programs funded by NSF and NASA, as well as to propose ideas for research projects of local or regional relevance. In addition, blocs of neighboring countries are beginning to collaborate on projects of importance to their area, such as studying the impacts of a major waterway that flows through several nations.

These changes are designed to make the research increasingly meaningful to students and their communities. In that regard, the tsunami projects may be a harbinger of GLOBE research to come that will focus on the concerns of local populations.

“In addition to our work with top NASA and NSF scientists, we want individual countries and groups of countries to build on GLOBE and make it more relevant regionally and locally,” Fellows explains. “That will help get students even more engaged, and it will spawn benefits for communities around the world.”

Getting help from schoolchildren


Through GLOBE, African schoolchildren have the opportunity to learn about scientific research methods. (Photo courtesy GLOBE.)

When scientists from several nations head to Africa for a field project over the next few years to study the West African monsoon, they plan to tap an important resource: local primary and secondary school students. The children are participants in GLOBE.

NCAR’s Peggy LeMone is GLOBE’s chief scientist. She believes the field project, known as the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis (AMMA), provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to draw on West African students to collect local data on rainfall and other weather parameters. The students, in turn, will see first hand how research is actually conducted.

“This will help both scientists who need to collect data across a wide area and students who want to be involved in real science and experience the excitement of a field campaign,” LeMone explains.

AMMA, a French-led field project that includes scientists from Europe, the United States, and Africa, will seek to learn more about the monsoon and what causes it to vary from year to year. Researchers will also look at the monsoon’s impact on health, food security, and water in West African nations.

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