A lucky guess? Learn the science of ozone depletion with NOAA and NASA!

Teaching 8th graders about Antarctic ozone hole in two and a half weeks

January 6, 2022

By Xinyi Zeng, Science Communications and Outreach Specialist at NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

As NOAA and NASA announced the 2021 Antarctic ozone hole condition on October 27, the 8th- and 9th-grade science classroom at Lafayette Junior/Senior High School also concluded their first science project on ozone hole prediction.

For 70+ students who started this new school year knowing little about ozone, they are now leaving the classroom with all the knowledge of what the ozone hole is like and how it forms.

Ozone diagrams created by 8th and 9th graders at Lafayette Junior/Senior High School. Photo Credit: David Amidon | Lafayette Junior/Senior High School

The science project these students embarked on was inspired by NOAA and NASA’s long-standing Ozone Hole Prediction Contest and would not be possible without a NOAA educational opportunity - the NOAA Teacher at Sea program.

David Amidon, the science teacher at Lafayette Junior/Senior High School and a 2017 alumnus of the NOAA Teacher at Sea program, was able to continue his connection with NOAA and developed this science project leveraging various resources from NOAA and NASA.

“My students first learned the topic over two and a half weeks. Then, they made a claim on when the ozone minimum would occur at what level, providing both scientific evidence and reasoning,” said Amidon.

prediction worksheet
A sample prediction worksheet for students. The worksheet follows a Claim - Evidence - Reasoning structure.

Making a claim might be easy, but backing it with scientific evidence and reasoning requires a lot more hard work.

“My biggest struggle was remembering all the information because there was so much - it kind of got a little overwhelming at parts,” said one of Amidon’s students. “But my biggest win was knowing what the ozone hole is like and how it forms. I think that was a big accomplishment because there are so many parts that go into it. I was very happy that I remembered everything.”

A science project inspired by NOAA and NASA

In 2018, Amidon saw a Facebook post about the Ozone Hole Prediction Contest from NOAA Corps Officer Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Cherisa Friedlander, who served as his contact aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Reuben Lasker in the Teacher at Sea program. LCDR Friedlander then moved to serve as the Station Chief at NOAA’s South Pole Atmospheric Research Observatory in 2018.

NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory started the contest about a decade ago to engage staff to follow the development of the ozone hole. Participants would enter their guesses on total column concentrations and the date of the ozone minimum with a winner claimed in October each year. NASA also has a similar internal contest on the size of the ozone hole each year.

prediction trophy
The Trophy of Ozone Hole Prediction Contest Winners since 2014

Along the way of creating this science project, Amidon received lots of help from NOAA and NASA.

“NOAA engineer Sabrina Shemet helped me a lot during the first year,” Amidon said. LCDR Friedlander and Shemet were NOAA’s first all-female winter-over crew. “My classes were even able to speak with LCDR Friedlander and Sabrina that year.”

Since 2018, Amidon has done the science project with his students several times. NASA’s Solar System Ambassador Program has provided posters and stickers to support Amidon running this experience.

The version Amidon used this year underwent significant reworks, further breaking down the content.

“Students are coming back to school after a whole year of virtual learning and I want to give them a refreshing experience at the start of the school year,” Amidon said. “The timing of the Antarctic ozone depletion fits perfectly.”

Running the ozonesonde program at the Global Monitoring Laboratory, Cullis created multiple video resources on ozone that are publicly available on YouTube.

Reaching out to NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory in September, Amidon got help from Peter Effertz and Patrick Cullis to navigate through NOAA resources on ozone research and the South Pole ozone hole.

Practicing science in 8 classes, and carrying it on

Spanning two and a half weeks, the science project covers both introductory topics like “what is the ozone layer” and “how is ozone measured” and hand-on practices, such as interpreting NOAA’s ozone vertical profiles and analyzing data patterns using an Excel spreadsheet.

Every year, ozone depletion in Antarctica starts when the sun rises. Sunlight activates chlorine from manmade chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, beginning a catalytic reaction in which a single chlorine molecule will destroy thousands of ozone molecules.

The 8-part science project ended on September 24, 2021, when students submitted their claims for this year’s ozone minimum. Yet, the learning didn’t stop here.

Throughout the season, NOAA’s South Pole Observatory launches weather balloons carrying ozone-measuring sondes that directly sample ozone levels vertically through the atmosphere. Once the sun rises, measurements are also made with a ground-based instrument called a Dobson spectrophotometer.

total ozone plot
Total column ozone concentration (Dobson Unit, DU) from balloon soundings (larger symbols connected with a line) and Dobson ozone data (small size symbols not connected). The red line is the data for the current year and the blue line (if present) is the data for the previous year. The lines and shading follow a progression from bottom to top as the minimum (thin black line), the 10th percentile (light gray shading), 30th percentile (dark gray shading), median (thick black line), 70th percentile (dark gray shading), 90th percentile (light gray shading), and the maximum (thin black line) over the period shown in the lower-left corner.

Thus, for the next month, Amidon continued to spend some time each week to review readings of total column ozone and vertical ozonesonde profiles on the NOAA website.

“We have a prediction calendar marking everyone’s guess,” said Amidon. “As days go by, we know who is likely to be the winner.”

The destruction reaction often peaks around late September to early October reaching the minimum level of ozone and the largest depletion extent.

On October 27, NOAA and NASA made the official announcement on the 2021 Antarctic ozone hole condition. With that, Amidon was also able to announce to his class the final winner. The class then spent 10-15 minutes rewriting their claims with evidence and reasoning.

Among 70+ students who entered their claims on the date and concentration of the Antarctic ozone minimum this year, two claimed the winning title. Their prediction, 102 Dobson Units on October 8, was just one day off from the actual minimum — 102 Dobson Units on October 7.

prediction winners
Two students from Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School - Thomas (on the left) predicted the date and Sye (on the right) had the correct Dobson reading one day later. Photo Credit: David Amidon | Lafayette Jr./Sr. High School

Even though the process was quite challenging, students are leaving the classroom with satisfaction.

“For some reason, my brain just refused to process any information about Polar stratospheric clouds at first, so making my model with that part was kind of difficult. But, this also meant that my biggest win was figuring out how those stratospheric clouds worked because I couldn't do it for like two days.” said a student.

For questions or concerns, please contact Xinyi Zeng ( xinyi.zeng@noaa.gov ).