Taking the Pulse of the Planet

Brief description

In this set of three activities, students will learn how various types of electromagnetic radiation are used to observe how our planet is changing. The first activity reviews the regions of the electromagnetic spectrum and outlines how they are used in Earth observation. In the second activity, students learn about false-colour images and use data from an Earth observation satellite to create such images in order to explore a changing region. In the final activity, students combine this technique with climate data from other satellites to produce a detailed report on a major flood or drought.

Subject Geography, Science, Earth Science

Learning Objectives
  • List the various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum
  • Relate some of these types of radiation to the aspects of the Earth system they can be used to monitor
  • Explain why it is useful to collect information about these aspects of the Earth system
  • Describe how colour images are created by combining sets of data
  • Evaluate the usefulness of various false-colour images
  • Use satellite data to explore changes in a region
  • Use the Climate from Space web application to explore changes in soil moisture and other variables
  • Combine information from a range of sources to create a report on a recent natural disaster
Age range
11- 14 years old
approximately 45 minutes per activity
Resource available in:
Activity 1: Taking the pulse of the planet
In this comprehension activity, pupils will explore the use of different wavelengths of radiation to monitor different components of the Earth’s climate system. It could be used as an introduction to the  electromagnetic spectrum, or to support later work on the uses of the various parts of the spectrum. Confident readers could carry out this activity as a standalone homework exercise.
Activity 2: Seeing in new Colours
In this activity, students learn how true and false-colour satellite images are created. They go on to explore a change to the environment and evaluate the best type of false-colour image to use in monitoring this change. The research task is open-ended and could be carried out individually at home if IT access allows, or in pairs or small groups in class.
Activity 3: Exploring Climate from Space 
In this activity, students use the Climate from Space web application to explore satellite measurements of soil moisture and how these change over time. They use this data, along with other information from the web application, the website used in the previous activity and the Internet, to produce a report on a major drought or flood.
  • Internet access
  • Climate from Space web application
  • Student worksheet 3 (2 pages)
  • Presentation, image- or/and word-processing software with which students are familiar
  • Materials for making a poster (optional)

Did you know?

‘The Blue Marble’ is the name given to a picture of Planet Earth taken by the crew of Apollo 17. It is one of the most widely reproduced photos of all time. The blue water of the seas and oceans dominate the image but when we take a closer look, we can distinguish many more colours: the yellow Sahara sand, the dark green tropical rainforests, the white of clouds over the oceans and ice and snow covering Antarctica. Pictures like this, taken with ordinary cameras, contain a vast amount of information. Similar images from space are now part of our daily life:
for example, they appear on many TV weather forecasts. The Blue Marble image shows the Earth as we see it with the naked eye. By detecting red, green and blue light, human eyes can see all the colours of the rainbow. Most of the radiation from the Sun is such visible light. But there are many more ‘colours’ of radiation we cannot see. Together, they make up the electromagnetic spectrum. Different types of electromagnetic radiation have different wavelengths.

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