Tracking Water Using NASA Satellite Data

Using real data from NASA's GRACE satellites, students will track water mass changes in the U.S., data that measures changes in ice, surface and especially groundwater. The background information includes an animated video about where water exists and how it moves around Earth, as well as short video clips to introduce the GRACE mission and explain how satellites collect data. Students will estimate water resources using heat-map data, create a line graph for a specific location, then assess trends and discuss implications.

This activity illustrates the importance of water resources and how changes in climate are closely linked to changes in water resources. The activity could fit into many parts of a science curriculum, for example a unit on water could be connected to climate change.

Go To:

Jet Propulsion Laboratory
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

Teachers will need to explain the term "heat-map" as the term for all such maps colored to represent a measurement--not just heat. Then for the particular map used in the activity, the zero point (white) needs to be explained as zero change from the previous month's average. Teachers also can emphasize that the colors are actual measurements of where the mass of water is in the landscape compared to the previous month, as determined by the GRACE satellites.

Teachers have the option of cutting down on the time this activity takes by choosing one of the several videos provided about the GRACE satellite mission.

This activity could be used in coordination with a social studies class studying 21st century events which have been affected by drought, flooding, glacial melt, and groundwater depletion.