Educational Resources

The Critical Zone (CZ) is where rock meets life. It covers Earth’s land surface and spans from the bottom of the water table to the top of the vegetation canopy. Understanding how it works requires an interdisciplinary approach across the physical, chemical, and biological sciences. Because CZ Science is so important and so new, it is vital to help STEM education professionals and their students learn about it. Moreover, CZ science is well suited to satisfying the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It overflows with examples and applications of Crosscutting Concepts, Disciplinary Core Ideas, and Science and Engineering Practices. Many of the below activities are designed with the NGSS in mind.

Example resources sorted by grade level - lowest to highest.

Many more resources are on their way - check back later.

Grades K-8

Forest Fire & Forest Density

Biology-Ecology Water/Hydrology

Activity

Southern Sierra CZO (CA)
Michelle Gilmore, mgilmore2@ucmerced.edu

Use a simple active game to explore the concept of how fire can spread quickly in a dry densely populated forest.

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Grades K-8

A Tree's Water Cycle

Biology-Ecology Water/Hydrology

Activity

Southern Sierra CZO (CA)
Michelle Gilmore, mgilmore2@ucmerced.edu

Students take a journey as water molecules moving throughout the tree water cycle.

Objectives - By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- Describe the main parts of the water cycle in and around a tree.
- Become familiar with proportions of water in each part of the cycle, depending on seasons and location.

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Grades K-12

California's Hydrologic Cycle

Water/Hydrology

Activity

Southern Sierra CZO (CA)
Michelle Gilmore, mgilmore2@ucmerced.edu

In this activity, students will be introduced to the hydrologic cycle, how water collects and gets used in California, and how scientists measure the water cycle.

Objectives - By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- Define the parts of the hydrologic cycle
- Describe how water resources in California change seasonally
- Identify ways scientists measure the water cycle

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Grades 3-12

Watersheds & Stream Models

Water/Hydrology

Demo • Activity

Southern Sierra CZO (CA)
Michelle Gilmore, mgilmore2@ucmerced.edu

Use simple stream models to explore the concept of watersheds, catchment basins, and to introduce California water resources.

Objectives - By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
- Define a watershed and a catchment basin
- Learn basic stream features and flow properties
- Understand sources of water in California

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Grades 6-8

Journey to El Yunque: Ecosystem Stress and Species Response

Biology-Ecology

Website

Luquillo CZO (PR)
Steve McGee, mcgee@lponline.net

Ecosystems respond in many ways to large-scale environmental events. Visit the El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico through this interactive module to discover how hurricanes affect the producers, consumers, and the flow of resources in the forest.

Photo Credit: Wilfredo Falcón on Flickr, License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Grades 6-12

Shaved Ice Snow-Water Equivalence

Water/Hydrology Atmosphere/Climate

Demo • Activity

Southern Sierra CZO (CA)
Michelle Gilmore, mgilmore2@ucmerced.edu

Students will use measurement tools and mathematics to determine the volume of water contained in snow of a certain density.

Objectives - By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
-Define SWE, density, volume
-Use measurement tools to determine density of snow and compare it to the volume of water contained in snow.
-Understand the need to monitor snowpack

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Grades 6-12

SimWater: Simulating Water Supply, Demand, & Management

Water/Hydrology Models/Computers Social Science

Activity

Southern Sierra CZO (CA)
Michelle Gilmore, mgilmore2@ucmerced.edu

SimWater is an activity that helps students understand the decisions water managers make, including questions like: Who receives water? How much agriculture can we sustain? Can we grow enough food to feed the people living on the land, and still meet environmental flows? The activity includes 1) three maps with varying precipitation zones, 2) land use areas that have varying water demands (agriculture, residential, and commercial); 3) sample activity instructions; and 4) an excel template to aid in calculations.

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Grades 9-12

LTER/LCZO Schoolyard Data Jam

Data/Computers Biology-Ecology

Workshop • Project

Luquillo CZO (PR)
Steve McGee, mcgee@lponline.net

The Luquillo LTER/CZO Data Jam invites high and middle school students to find interesting ways to present scientific data to non-scientist audiences. Students use ecological data collected at the El Yunque National Forest by the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory to create a project that presents the data in a non-traditional way. An important component of the activity is encouraging students to get creative. Project examples include children’s books, raps, videos, models, presentations, and infographics. Students present their project at the Luquillo LTER Schoolyard Symposium hosted by the University of Puerto Rico.

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Grades 9-12

What is the Boulder Creek CZO? - A Video Series

Many Subjects

Video  • Tour

Boulder Creek CZO (CO)
Suzanne Anderson, suzanne.anderson@colorado.edu

Three sets of videos provide a tour through the Boulder Creek CZO, from the Continental Divide (4120 m) to the western edge of the Plains (1480 m). CZO researchers describe the fieldwork and data collection that supports CZO science in the Rocky Mountains.

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Grades 9-12

The Past, Present & Future of the Valles Caldera

Geology

Activity

Jemez-Catalina (NM)
National Office, Sarah Sharkey, ses5291@psu.edu, Tim White, Jon Chorover

This activity familiarizes students with the geoheritage of volcanism in the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) in New Mexico. It focuses on the development of skills and knowledge involving scale of geologic features, volcanic geology, and the denudation of this modern caldera landscape by wildfires and climate change. It also draws attention to the role of Critical Zone (CZ) science in studying and understanding the processes that formed and continue to shape this nationally valued landscape.

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Grades 9-12

Geomorphology & Paleoclimates

Landscapes Maps/RemoteSensing

Activity

Shale Hills (PA)
National Office, Tim White, Ashlee Dere, Sarah Sharkey ses5291@psu.ed

This activity familiarizes students with remote sensing data using imagery from Google Earth, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) for Mars, and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data. The goal is to use landscape imagery to understand and interpret the effect of geologic processes on a landscape and to relate the processes to past climatic conditions.

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Grades All

Mt. Lemmon Science Tour App

Many Subjects

App • Tour

Catalina-Jemez (AZ/NM)
Santa Catalina Mountains & Jemez River Basin(AZ/NM), Shipherd Reed, shipherd@email.arizona.edu

This is a narrative "Tour" app for the drive up the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona, to the top of Mt. Lemmon, the highest peak in the Catalinas. It is one of the most dramatic drives in the country, and the Catalinas are one of the "Sky Island" mountain ranges in Southern Arizona that climb from desert at the bottom to pine forest at the top. The Tour connects the fascinating earth science of the region to what users see on the drive up so they come to understand and appreciate the natural systems and cycles that sustain or region and our world.

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Grades 13+

Using LiDAR to Explore the Critical Zone

Maps/RemoteSensing Biology-Ecology

Computer Activity

Boulder (CO)
Boulder Creek CZO, Suzanne Anderson, suzanne.anderson@colorado.edu

LiDAR is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure distances to Earth. It is the light equivalent of sonar. LiDAR offers a unique means to explore the Critical Zone at very fine scales (~1 m) over very large areas (>100 km2). It therefore allows CZ scientists a way to understand how detailed measurements fit into the larger landscape. Use LiDAR data and display software to analyze the effects of fire on a Rocky Mountain forest.

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Grades 13+

The Influence of Dry Deserts on Tropical Rain Forests

Atmosphere/Climate Biology-Ecology

Activity • Website

Luquillo (PR)
Luquillo CZO, Adam Wymore, Adam.Wymore@unh.edu

African dust storms transport particles with a unique chemical signature to the Caribbean Islands downwind. In this activity students download rainwater chemistry data and look for seasonal patterns of calcium inputs. Students will then interpret how precipitation-derived calcium compares with seasonal patterns of the Saharan Air Layer and seasonal dust inputs.

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Grades 13+

Critical Zone Oxford Bibliography

Many subjects

Article  • Information

Cross-CZO
National Office, Tim White, Sarah Sharkey

An annotated bibliography of selected resources related to CZ science.

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