Sunday, November 14, 2010

Module VI Weather Connections

How are the Earth, atmosphere and cultures all connected?

The Arctic Haze segment really caught my eye.  Driving into Anchorage every morning I see this brown haze hanging over the Cook Inlet and Fire Island area.  The dust kicked up by the largest city in Alaska is really evident in the wintertime.  

Those on the North slope have been accumulating heavy metals for years.  It reminded me of the story of the Atomic Agency Commission and their quest to blast a harbor out with an atomic bomb along the coast of Northern Alaska.  The potential for radioactive material to enter the food chain from the lichen to the local people was frightening.  Check it out in the Firecracker Boys.   
 The interaction of the wind, temperature and pressure in our troposphere is an important part of our day out in Bristol Bay.  The sonar site I work at on the Nushagak River counts up to four of the five species of salmon going up to spawn.  Big winds bring the fish (along with high tides) into the bay and we more often than not, get slammed 24 hours later.  It seems we are always looking for which way the wind is blowing.  Not only for the fish passage but some of our tents leak! 

 My 8th grade class does little in the study of climate and weather, but I did take a very helpful online class offered through National Geographic's Jason Project.  The curriculum I took was Monster Storms and it contained a complete unit with curriculum, interactive labs and online games.  We looked at how a monster storm, i.e. hurricanes and tornadoes form and the science and researchers behind it.

I am also using their geology unit Tectonic Fury to supplement my own curriculum for earthquakes, volcanoes and plate tectonics.

Another resource all Alaskan teachers should have is the book The Climate of Alaska. This resource is filled with climate information from Alaska's temperature and humidity to the climate of selected towns across Alaska.  

The authors discuss the difference between climate and weather and the controlling factors that make Alaska's climate.  Fun Facts abound for the curious throughout the volume.  One in particular describes the density of humid air with that of dry air.  I know, I thought it the other way around?!

The book also looks at growing seasons around the state and I thought of a connection with the local inhabitants.  In the Interior, the growing season is around 100 days but along Lake Minchumina, the season is extended due to the lake's maritime influence.   

Another section looks at the effects wind has on humans and the environment.  Did you know there have been four reported cases where a tornado touched down in Alaska?  From above the Arctic Circle to areas around Anchorage and Cook Inlet.
Pressure and its importance to climate in Alaska is another area where this book relates to our module this week.  The "semi-permanent" low pressure area called the Aleutian Low sits off the Aleutian Islands and is the driving force for most of the storms that affect Alaska's western and southern coasts.  I tried to find it on our Google Earth search but its occurrence is mostly in winter.
Image from Google Earth

The Discovery video  and graphics were wonderful this week.  My understanding of weather systems was lacking, (in particular pressure zones and the formation of the Gulf Stream) and those videos really helped in my understanding of this weeks module.

photo by author
Some fun ways to explore pressure in the classroom is to have a smaller student jump into a very large garbage bag and have them hold the edges tightly around their necks.  I start my trusty shop vac and hand the nozzle to the student.  He or she then grasps the end and sticks it partway down the opening around their neck.  I turn it on and "take" all of the surrounding air from the bag.  The student is now vacuum packed and they can feel the surrounding air pressing on them from the classroom.

The vertical structure of the atmosphere would make a great flip-book using Dinah Zyke's graphic organizers and lessons.

Labs with probes is a great way for students to check out the phases of matter. I use the Vernier probes and their middle school lab manual is filled with  labs already to go!  Software is free too.


I found Sabrina's pic from the Kodiak Island tsunami to be frightening!  I will definitely use some in my earthquake unit. 

Alison has a really nice site and it is easy to read.  We both find the apathy of our students to be a little disheartening at times

Cheryl has a great diagram of a guyot.  Check it out.  Way cool.


  1. Thanks for the recommended read: The Firecracker Boys. I'll have to check it out!

  2. The additional teacher resources are wonderful! I have used Jason's Project in the past but I had forgotten about it. What a great connection.