MOSAIC for the Science Classroom: Mesospheric ozone investigations by high school students

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Monday, 18 January 2010
Melinda Lekberg, Chelmsford High School, Chelmsford, MA; and A. E. E. Rogers and M. Needles

The MOSAIC project (Mesospheric Ozone System for Atmospheric Investigations in the Classroom) is an exciting research and education collaboration that focuses on the dynamics of ozone in the mesosphere. This project provides a unique science and technology opportunity for high school students to measure emission lines of mesospheric ozone using a simple spectrometer developed at MIT Haystack Observatory with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Little is known about the conditions and dynamics of the mesosphere because it is too high to be sampled by balloons and too low to be easily accessible to satellites. The ground-based MOSAIC system offers an elegant way to establish altitude dependent ozone concentrations from the 11 GHz ozone emission line. The possibilities for student investigation are broad and scientifically significant. Results thus far have established both diurnal and semiannual seasonal variations in mesospheric ozone. It is known that the diurnal variations are due to the destruction of the ozone by UV radiation from the Sun during the day; however, the detection of seasonal variations are new and may shed light on the dynamics of the inter-hemispheric meridional circulation of water vapor. In addition, MOSAIC measurements collected to date extend through the low activity portion of the current solar cycle. It is of interest to learn if ozone concentrations will be affected when solar activity increases. Of environmental significance, it is predicted that global warming should be accompanied by mesospheric cooling. Processing of MOSAIC peak shape and coincident long-term monitoring of ozone levels will give students an exciting opportunity to contribute to the establishment and refinement of poorly understood mesospheric temperatures.

MOSAIC results to date have been reported in a recently accepted paper for publication in the American Meteorological Societies' Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.

Understanding in astronomy, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and physics can all be enhanced using MOSAIC for student exploration of mesospheric ozone. High school students in various ability levels can be involved in this project through investigations into aspects as simple as the dramatic diurnal variations of the ozone in the mesosphere, to more sophisticated investigations through large data set analysis, studies of radiative transfer, and the use of spectroscopy. The MOSAIC project brings authentic scientific investigation into the high school classroom. This presentation will describe the MOSAIC system and how it is being used to engage the students at Chelmsford High School, Chelmsford, MA, in a project that allows them to make observations on contemporary climate research that have never been done before, and gives them the opportunity to conduct original research that will add to the body of knowledge pertaining to the mesosphere.