Fostering Geospatial Thinking: Space to Earth: Earth to Space (SEES)

Image of Earth from space
To identify, compare and contrast multiple geo-referenced Earth data sets
Grade Level: 9 – 12
Estimated Time for Completing Activity: 50 minutes
Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will locate and access real data for science inquiry.
  • Students will geo-reference data based on latitude and longitude.
  • Students will evaluate and compare multiple data sets.
  • Students will correlate satellite and ground truth data.
  • Familiarity with finding locations using latitude and longitude
  • Familiarity with using Google Earth software
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Google Earth
Lesson Links:

Geospatial Technologies have been identified as one of the top three emerging growth industries by the US Department of Labor and play an important role in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) initiatives. Geospatial Technologies consist of two major components, Geographic Information Systems, and Remote Sensing. Students need to be introduced to, and to begin to think geospatially in order to link geo-referenced data sets. Using Google Earth as a tool, students can now explore the entire planet through the use of remotely sensed data and imagery. What continues to emerge is the number of NASA, NOAA, USGS, and other data sets that can be viewed on the Google Earth infrastructure. The MY NASA DATA Live Access Server (LAS) is no exception. One option to view the data is to Plot on Google Earth. This exercise is designed to utilize that LAS option.

GIS enables students to geo-reference multiple data sets creating layers. This essentially becomes a vertical profile of data, information, photographs etc. that when viewed as a body of information can present a fairly comprehensive view of that location. Based on data associated with latitude and longitude, students now have the ability to examine geo-referenced data sets derived on Earth, and from satellite instruments in orbit, thus enabling investigators to look from top down (Space to Earth) or from the bottom up (Earth to Space). Using the SEES Model students can line-up multiple data sets for the purpose of building a comprehensive model. In addition, using the SEES Model, i.e. multiple geo-referenced data sets, promotes examining the Earth as a System. This exercise will create such a model through the use of an Earth-based data set, i.e. NOAA Buoy data, and space-based data using the MY NASA DATA LAS Oceans microset. Google Earth will be used as the viewing platform to look at the correlation of data.

This exercise will introduce students to ground truthing skills through the correlation of the NDBC buoy data with the ocean satellite data.


1. Open Google Earth. Minimize.
2. Open the National Data Buoy Center website using the Lesson Link above.
3. Select a region you wish to examine.
4. Click on a buoy of your choice.
5. Copy and paste the latitude-longitude on the buoy into Google Earth and SAVE.
6. Record the current ocean water temperature from the buoy.
7. Open the Live Access Server (Advanced Edition) using the Lesson Link above.
8. Click on Oceans, Daily Sea Surface Temperature (GHRSST)).
9. For the time range, choose the most recent date.
10. Select ‘Google Earth’ from the menu at the top of the page and click ‘Ok’ to either open directly or save and then open.
11. Viewing the data overlay on Google Earth, zoom in on buoy lat-long, which you plotted earlier.
12. Compare the NDBC Real-Time Sea Surface Temperature with the satellite visualization of the daily average temperature.
13. Select another buoy, Repeat Steps 4-11.


1. How do the two data sets compare to each other?
2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each data set?
3. If you were commercial fishermen, which data set would of best value to you? Why?
4. Based on the buoy data, what do you feel is the reliability of the satellite data?


1. Following the same procedure, plot the LAS Near-Surface Air Temperature data.

2. Design an investigation on the impact of the passage of a Hurricane on SST.

3.Talk about any potential problems and barriers with collecting satellite data. What are some problems associated with gaps in the data sets. What are some of the ways around these problems when reporting the data.

Lesson plan contributed by John D. Moore, Medford, New Jersey

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