by Tom Martin
I enjoy going to the cinema. I enjoy Professional Development. I didn’t think for one minute that these two interests would ever overlap. That was until I went to watch the new $200 million blockbuster “Battleship” at the cinema last weekend. Without giving too much away it’s basically about an alien invasion and mankind’s struggle to defeat them. Sound familiar? The difference is, this time the battle is fought mainly at sea. Hence the ship bit.
Being an educator, I enjoy films that not only entertain, but that also educate and I learned a very valuable lesson on this occasion. The lesson is how to locate alien ships when you find yourself trapped at sea on an American warship within a 2 mile thick impenetrable alien force field and the alien ships don’t show up on your RADAR. (They don’t show up because they apparently use special RADAR blocking alien technology).
The answer to this problem is surprisingly simple. Access NASA “NOAA” data on the web. You can get live data from ocean buoys that measure wave-height then overlay that on your ships navigation system. Every time the aliens go past a buoy in their ocean-faring craft they will generate large waves. This wave height is measured and transmitted from the buoy via satellite to your ship and these will show as a “blip” on the navigation screen. This enables you to trace the “blips” across the sea and hence find the aliens. This in turn allows you to fire torpedoes at the aforementioned alien craft. Unfortunately on this occasion – they missed. Twice. To find out how the film ends, I recommend you go and watch it!
Now, how does this relate to a Science Learning Centre course I hear you ask? Well, it is a case of “Science Fiction meets Science Fact”. Back in March I attended a SLCSE RCUK course titled “Climate Change” at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) at the University of Southampton along with 10 keen teachers with an interest in Climate Change and how it can be used to teach Science.
It was a wonderful day – a perfect mix of theory and practical activities. Part of the day was spent visiting the NOC’s IT suite. The course tutor guided us on how to use live NASA data (similar to that featured on the film) to monitor changing sea temperatures at various locations around the world. The idea is that students can also use this open access data in class for a variety of purposes such as investigations or projects.
The day was rounded-off with a voyage into Southampton Water on the state-of-the-art research inshore vessel, the RV Callista. It was glorious. The sun was shining and we carried out several investigations including salinity measurements and dredging the sea bed. We even had an encounter with the Navy (the Royal Navy not the American one as featured in the film!) as coincidently the nuclear submarine HMS Tireless entered Southampton on a 5-day visit to the city! All very exciting stuff.
So that’s the story of how data used on RCUK Climate Change course at the National Oceanography Centre could save the world from alien invasion. Lucky there were no aliens in the Solent on that occasion!
To use the open access NASA data mentioned above, visit here: https://mynasadata.larc.nasa.gov/data.html
Thanks to Dr Simon Boxall and the team at National Oceanography Centre, Southampton for providing the course in March 2012. We hope to schedule another instance of this course in Spring 2013. Watch this space for details.
Visit the Science Learning Centre website For more information on cutting edge science courses.