Sunday, 14 January 2007
An earth science hands-on activity based on Hurricane Katrina
Exhibit Hall C (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
Natural disasters continually serve as important stimuli for generating student interest in earth science. Recent disasters, such as the December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the devastating hurricanes of 2004 and again in 2005, captured the attention of both our students and the general public. Similarly, the devastation produced by Category 5 Hurricane Katrina provoked increased interest in the origin of such powerful storms. Detailed tracking and analyses of Katrina yielded a large, readily available source of earth science data, including remote sensing images. We have developed a hands-on activity for high school and undergraduate college students in earth science centered on the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina as a case study of atmosphere-ocean interactions. Students receive a simple data set culled from a larger database accessible at the NOAA Hurricane Forecast Center website. Hurricane storm track positions (latitude, longitude) over time, wind speeds, and sea surface temperatures are included in the set. Students, by plotting data provided on hurricane tracking charts, observe the development of the storm to hurricane strength and eventually category 5. Through this activity, they also discover the role of high sea surface temperatures in helping fuel the rapid intensification of Hurricane Katrina. Other intended learning outcomes from this activity encompass knowledge of hurricane geography, the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, El Niņo influences on hurricane generation and the controversy concerning the role of global warming in hurricane intensification. Additionally, activity questions address math and science critical thinking skills. We have begun to use this activity in our earth science courses and early indications show that it enhances student learning of hurricane development.