Teachers' Background Materials
Investigating the question "How Does Near-Surface Air
Temperature Change with Height on Earth?"
Below are background information for two activities
that explore "temperature profiles" -- temperatures taken at various
heights and recorded over time. By examining the raw data and associated
graphs students will look for patterns that reveal day-length, heating of
the air over a day, and the temperature change of air with height.
Questions to consider (Suggestions/answers in parentheses)
- What about the graph helps you distinguish between night and day? (The
height of the temperature curve differentiates night from day. Higher temperatures
for day, lower for night.)
- Does the temperature change at the same rate each morning? (No, the
heating rates are slightly different each day--judged from the steepness
of the temperature curve.).
- Is the rate of increase the same as the rate of decrease over a day?
(No, the temperature curve is not "symmetric"--the air warms
faster than it cools.)
- Describe the temperature profile for the warmest part of a day. (The
air closest to the ground is warmer than the air at 1.00 meters.)
- Describe the temperature profile for the coldest part of a day. (The
air at 1.00 meters is warmer than the air closest to the ground.)
- Are the temperature profiles for warmest and coldest parts of a day
the same? (No, they are reversed.)
- Is the temperature profile for the warmest part of a day the same for
all days? (Yes, if temperatures are taken in a place where the sun is shining
on the ground.)
- Answer only if you have completed Download
and Analysis of Mars-Based Temperature Data --Is the change you
described in the previous question the same for temperatures on Mars? (Yes,
the basic profiles are the same, although the temperatures and extremes
- What factors might affect your temperature readings? (Accuracy of thermometers,
proficiency in reading thermometers, whether thermometers are shielded
from direct sunlight, the season in which measurements are taken, location
of thermometers (in sun or shade), surface over which temperatures are
taken (concrete, grass, soil, etc.), actual differences in air temperature
- If you were to do this experiment again, what would you do differently?
(Answers will vary--look for ways to improve accuracy and extend conceptual
Suggestions for "original" experiments:
- What is the effect of the wind on air temperature?
- What is the air temperature at 10 meters? 100 meters? 1,000 meters?
- Which conditions combine to make the greatest difference in a temperature
profile? The least difference?
- What is the relationship to soil temperature and the air temperature
at 0.25 meters? At 1.00 meters?
- What is the relationship between change in air pressure to the change
in temperature during the day? Is it the same at night?
- How does the temperature profile over water compare to the profile
© 1998 Live
from Earth and Mars, Rich Edgerton, and Janice DeCosmo