- become familiar with the environment-monitoring capabilities of earth-observation satellites;
- acquire skill in observing the Earth and its atmosphere using space technology;
- appreciate the value of remote sensing in conserving wildlife habitats and measuring the ecological impacts of climate change;
- deepen their awareness of the impacts of climate change on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; and
- practise asking questions scientifically, employing a research procedure, and gathering data.
Students conduct research on the environment-monitoring capabilities of earth-observation satellites and write a report or give an oral presentation on the use of remote-sensing technology to measure the impacts of climate change on an ecological area.
Internet access; downloadable fact-sheets and remote-sensing images
Remote-sensing technology is like an eye in the sky that allows us to monitor the Earth and its atmosphere from outer space. It gives us a unique vantage point from which we can measure shifts in ecozones and other impacts of climate change on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. For example, comparisons between satellite data and historical photographs show that most mountain glaciers worldwide are shrinking because of rising temperatures. Other satellite data reveal accelerated growth in terrestrial vegetation caused by increasing carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere and longer growing seasons. As climate change intensifies, remote sensing will be used more and more to measure shifts in vegetation zones, rising sea levels, lowering lake levels, coastal erosion, receding sea ice, shrinking wetlands, and other ecological impacts.
- Start with an overview of remote sensing, which means observing the Earth and its atmosphere with sensors, usually mounted on orbiting satellites outside the planet's atmosphere. These sensors are like cameras that use both visible light and other parts of the spectrum, such as infrared, microwave, and ultraviolet. Because these sensors are so high up, they can scan enormous areas. They can give us a close-up view of ecological regions, no matter what the weather or time of day.
- Tell your class that one of the most important applications of remote sensing is to measure the impacts of climate change on the planet's surface and atmosphere (see "Background" above). By way of example, show your students a transparency of a Leaf Area Index (LAI) map of Canada. Explain that LAI is a valuable indicator of climate change, as it reveals the extent of terrestrial vegetation, evidence of increasing temperatures, moisture, and amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Ask your students for more suggestions on how remote sensing might be used to measure the impacts of climate change.
- Divide your class into pairs or small groups. Tell them that they will each do a research project on the use of remote sensing to monitor the effects of climate change on an ecological area. Direct them to the Climate Change Research page of the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, where they can choose from a variety of downloadable fact-sheets and data sets showing evidence of climate change observed from orbiting satellites. They should cover the following points in their research:
- Which climatic impacts and geographical regions appear in the remote-sensing images?
- How is remote-sensing technology used to monitor the area?
- What data do the images include?
- Do they show real evidence of climate change?
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