In high schools across the world, students regularly gather at specific times round Stevenson screens, white louvre boxes filled with scientific instruments, to make measurements and observations. The students are part of a study being conducted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
While studying at Taipei First Girls' High School (TFG,
Every break time when the satellites Terra and Aqua passed over Taiwan, she and her classmates in the Earth Science Club would congregate round the Stevenson screen. Together they filled in sheets downloaded from NASA's Web site with information on the temperature, humidity, and types of clouds in the sky. Sometimes, Lin would take pictures of the clouds. Her shots won three consecutive cloud photo contests held by NASA, beginning in 2003.
PHOTO: GINGER YANG, TAIPEI TIMES
Now, Lin is a history major in National Taiwan Normal University (
The project, Students' Cloud Observations On-Line (S'COOL), involves over 1,700 schools across the US and in 60 other countries, according to the S'COOL's Web site. Eight schools in Taiwan participated in the project last year. All participants document surface-based observations and post the results on the Web site.
The rational for S'COOL is vali-dation. Clouds are powerful agents of global climate change as they affect overall temperature and the energy balance of the Earth, thereby playing an important role in controlling the planet's long-term climate.
PHOTO: GINGER YANG, TAIPEI TIMES
To understand the impact of clouds over time, satellites take measurements. The data from NASA's ERBE and CERES satellite instruments, for example, have made and continue to make significant contributions to the understanding of clouds.
The satellite information must be validated by measurements from aircraft and ground stations. This is where S'COOL comes in.
"Because NASA needs data from so many locations, it is a really brilliant idea to use school kids from all around the world to collect data," said Wu Yu-ya (吳育雅), an earth science teacher at TFG. "This project encourages students to turn their eyes from textbooks to nature; to see the sky and the clouds."
PHOTOS COURTESY OF SANDY LIN
Lin recalls throwing herself into the S'COOL project with great ardour. She never missed a single observation, even though other students sometimes found this routine boring. She enjoyed the whole process. "I still miss the Stevenson screen," said Lin.
"NASA was a remote, impossible dream, but this project makes each of us become a `member' of NASA. I realized that I can contribute to NASA," Lin said.
Lu Chao-ying (盧超英), a TFG geography teacher, believes this sense of involvement and participation is important for students: "Our students have the potential to achieve something big, to be part of an international project," she said.
A new generation of students at TFG and Wu's withdrawal from the project has seen the initiative pass to other schools, including Zhongshan Girls' Senior High School (
This March and April, Zhongshan school moved up to 10th place, an indication of the high quality and consis-tency of its observations.
"I am happy to hear the news. Paying attention to the earth is as important as getting good grades," said Ting Ya-wen (丁亞雯), the principal at Zhongshan school. The school has the second largest climate observation facility in Taiwan.
Huang Kai-fu (黃凱夫), an earth science teacher at the Zhongshan Girls' Senior High School, said that students need to take real pleasure in their work if they are to be effective in making observations. "Identifying the different kinds of clouds is no simple matter. Formations change so quickly that it is hard to determine (what kind they are). Unless you like it, you will find the work frustrating."
According to Kirsten Liu (
Another TFG participant, Liu Lu-hang (劉綠杭), summed up the project as a mixture of science and the appreciation of nature. In the Chinese version of the S'COOL Web site, she writes "Every time when I look up to the sky, various questions would come in to my mind: How can cirrus be shaped like hair? Why do (Cirrocumulus) clouds sometimes
arrange themselves in such an orderly way? Why does the color of the sky at dusk or night differ everyday?"
Perhaps through a project like S'COOL, she will be inspired to find out.
More information about the S'COOL project can be found at asd-www.larc.nasa.gov/SCOOL/.
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