Taking the Pulse of the Planet- Upper secondary

Brief description

In this set of three activities, students will learn about how data is collected by sensors and how the orbit of a satellite affects the detail that can be obtained. A text-based activity introduces the concept of remote sensing and looks at how sensors and satellites in different orbits can be matched to the intended application. This is followed by mathematical work exploring factors affecting the amount of detail that is visible in a satellite image. In the final activity, students use the Climate from Space web application to explore a range of climate variables during El Niño and La Niña events.

Subject Geography, Science, Earth Science

Learning Objectives
  • List the key components of a remote sensing system
  • Describe the benefits and drawbacks of different satellite orbits for monitoring the Earth and its climate
  • Create an infographic to convey research in an engaging way
  • Analyse a digital image to determine the resolution of the image
  • Consider how sensors are adapted for use on satellite platforms
  • Suggest reasons for differences in the resolution of data collected by different instruments
  • Use climate data to identify El Niño and La Niña events
  • Explain how these events have global effects and investigate the human  and societal impact of one such effect
Age range
14 – 16 years old
approximately 45 minutes per activity
Resource available in:
Activity 1:Taking the pulse of the planet
In this comprehension activity, students are introduced to the concept of remote sensing and explore the use of satellites in different orbits to monitor components of the Earth’s climate system. Confident readers could carry out this activity as a standalone homework exercise, and the final research task may be done individually or in pairs/groups.
Activity 2: What can we see from space?
In this activity, pupils will be challenged to think about factors affecting the amount of detail possible in data collected from space. Calculations based on the information about a digital image taken in the classroom with an everyday camera allow students to revise mathematical ideas about similar triangles or proportionality. Investigating the resolution of data sets in the Climate from Space web application introduces the wide range of ECVs that can be measured from space. 
  • Student worksheet 2 (2 pages)
  • A metre rule or tape measure
  • Smartphone or digital camera
  • Calculator
  • Image-processing software with which students are familiar
  • Climate from Space web application (cfs.climate.esa.int)
Activity 3: El Niño and La Niña
In this activity, pupils will  explore some datasets in the Climate from Space web application in greater detail to support understanding of El Niño and La Niña events and research into their impacts.

Did you know?

A key use of Earth observation is monitoring the climate. The climate system is complicated, and understanding it requires measurements from across the globe, so space is the ideal vantage point from which to collect data: it would take an army of ground-level observers to collect the information in a single satellite image. Space-based instruments can also collect data from remote or inaccessible places such as the polar regions and the middle of the ocean. A further advantage of satellites is that they can make measurements at regular intervals over a period of years. Thanks to overlapping measurements from several families of satellite instruments, we now have detailed records, covering decades, for many of the key aspects of the climate that scientists and policy makers call Essential Climate Variables (ECVs).

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