Exploring Aerosols in the Stratosphere

Analyzing data using tools, technology and models to construct explanations

Relevant Math, Science and Language Standards

(NGSS.SEP:2,4,5,7) Developing and using models; Analyzing and interpreting data; using mathematics and computational thinking; Engaging in argument from evidence

(CCSSM.MP.4) Model with mathematics.

(CCSS/ELA. RTS.11-12.2) Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

SAGE III Goes to the ISS

Using Technology to Explore the Stratosphere

Find out about the technology NASA is using to measure aerosols and ozone in the stratosphere. This video describes the design, launch and installation of the SAGE III instrument, and how its measurements will help scientists understand global temperature changes. [Open Video]


Select 1-page problems appropriate for students exploration of the math involved with the science theme.

SAGE III Explores Aerosol Math (2014) 18 Problems; 2 Interactive Labs This book explores the properties of atmospheric aerosols being studied by the NASA SAGE III instrument onboard the International Space Station. Download Book: [PDF: 20.4 Mby ]

Engage with Press Releases

Particles in Upper Atmosphere Slow Down Global Warming (July 25, 2011 : Space.com)

A study published July 21 in Science and led by Susan Solomon, of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), presents new evidence that particles located in the upper layer of the atmosphere -- also called the stratosphere -- have played a significant role in cooling the climate in the past decade, despite being at persistently low levels.

Stratospheric aerosols, which are small droplets consisting of sulfuric acid and water, have been reflecting some sunlight back into space, which would have otherwise warmed the Earth."Stratospheric aerosols are a small variable in the climate change equation," said Larry Thomason, a scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, "But if you compare the climate system to a balanced scale, it doesn't take much to tip that scale. Stratospheric aerosols have that potential."

NASA's Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE II) monitored them from 1984 to 2005, and the joint NASA/CNES Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) has been able to estimate the amount of particles in the stratosphere since its launch in 2006. The NASA data was also combined with data from Global Ozone Monitoring by Occultation of Stars (GOMOS), a European Space Agency instrument.

These stratospheric aerosols that need to be taken into account are heavily influenced by a natural source - volcanic eruptions. "Even in times without major eruptions, the role of the stratosphere's sulfuric aerosol in climate has remained significant. If they are neglected, it can result in overestimates of global warming in coming decades, particularly if these aerosols remain present at current values or increase," said Thomason. [More]

Additional Press Releases:

1-Space Station Bound SAGE III is Full Steam Ahead...[Link]
2-SAGE III/ISS to Study Earth's Ozone Layer from the Space Station...[Link]
3-Time to Fly: SAGE III - ISS Prepped for Space Station...[Link]
4-Atmospheric Aerosols:What Are They, and Why Are They So Important?...[Link]
5-Aerosols in the Stratosphere...[Link]
6-Could Pumping Aerosols into the Atmosphere Stop Global Warming?...[Link]


Guide your students to create their own problems using the information found in the press release or video program. Use this as a check of their understanding.


Deepen your student's understanding of how data can be analyzed by using interactive spreadsheets.

Exploring Opacity - The amount of light dimming depends on the optical properties of a medium, which scientists call its opacity. In this lab module, students adjust the opacity of a medium and explore how the light passing through it changes. (.xlsx file)

Horizon Modeling - The SAGE instrument will view the limb of Earth and study the dimming of light as the sun sets. The amount of dimming depends on the distance to the horizon as viewed from the ISS. This lab module lets students interact with the viewing geometry.(.xlsx file)

Modeling Sources and Sinks - The quantity of aerosols in the stratosphere is a balance between process that produce them (sources) and process that remove them (sinks). Students explore how changes in various known sources and sinks cause the aerosol loading of the stratosphere to change.(.xlsx file)

Climate Modeling - Students explore how the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causes changes to sea level, arctic ice cap volume and global warming.(.xlsx file)


Evaluate students' understanding of how math, science and technology work together to increase our understanding of the role of aerosols and ozone in the stratosphere and how these affect climate change, through formative or summative assessments.