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What is the focus of this module?
The "Yellowstone Fires" module is an inquiry-based science project that uses the interactive technologies of the internet and the Earth system science (ESS) approach to explore the dilemma of wildland fires in national parks. This module supports the National Science Education Standards.

This module focuses on the Yellowstone fires of 1988 that led to an intense public debate regarding the National Park Service's fuel management policy. This policy stated that fires started by natural causes should be allowed to burn to their natural conclusion. More specifically, your students, acting as a team of environmental biologists, will assist a group of concerned government agencies in resolving this policy debate. The government officials would like to know whether or not to allow naturally-caused fires in national parks to burn to their natural conclusion. The government agencies are particularly interested in your students' recommendations based on their Earth system science analysis of a fire's impact on the air, land, water, and living things.

What are the students' procedures for conducting this module?
By following the steps outlined in the Protocol below, the students should generate the information necessary to make predictions about the effects of naturally-caused willdland fires on national parks. More specifically, students will predict whether or not government officials should allow such a fire to burn the next time one occurs in Yellowstone National Park.

Protocol: First, the students will perform an Earth system science analysis. Then they will make predictions based on the results of their ESS analysis concerning the Yellowstone fires to predict the results under the existing policy and to support any recommendations they would make to revise the policy

Following the steps below will help them accomplish their tasks.

Step 1 Examine prior knowledge.
Step 2 List what you don't know.
Step 3 Gather information needed to complete the ESS analysis.
Step 4 Present your findings.

A Comprehensive Sample of ESS Protocol has been created for this module. The sample includes an ESS analysis of wildland fires, such as those in Yellowstone National Park, and their effects on Earth's various spheres. It also includes predictions, based on the results of the ESS analysis, concerning the policy debate about whether to let naturally-caused fires in national parks burn to their natural conclusion. This comprehensive sample contains a broad spectrum of potential impacts of the event on Earth's spheres and the subsequent feedback and potential interactions that might result. Most students will not present this much information. In addition, although it is comprehensive, it is not necessarily complete. The students may provide an ESS analysis with explanations of their predictions regarding the policy on naturally-caused fires in national parks that are not listed in the sample.

What are the teacher's procedures for conducting this module?
The "Yellowstone Fires" Module is based upon Earth system science (ESS) thinking and Problem Based-Learning (PBL) pedagogy. The students are asked to examine the potential impacts of forest fires like the 1988 Yellowstone Fires on Earth's various spheres and the subsequent feedback and potential interactions that might result. Rather than formulating right or wrong answers, the students should be able to provide an ESS analysis that explains their predictions of the effects of willand fires under the existing policy and supports any recommendations they would make to revise the policy.

What science content and issues will students encounter as they work through the module?
The students will research how natural events and human activities affect wildland fires and how such fires affect Earth's spheres in a national park. The main content issues students raise are:

  • Wildland fire causes and effects.
  • Impact of forest fires on the air, land, water, and living things.
  • Human actions and natural changes affect the ecological balance within an ecosystem.
  • Positive and negative impacts associated with passing laws, regulations and policies.

Students may also encounter a variety of related science content issues you may wish to reinforce depending upon the content you are teaching:

  • Fire Science
  • Fuel
  • Ignition
  • Combustion
  • Fuel & Fire Management
  • Regrowth of an ecosystem after a disaster
  • Yellowstone National Park ecosystem
  • the importance of the National Park system
  • biodiversity and niches

How is remote sensing used in this module?
Students are introduced to the concept of remote sensing and its application in the field of Earth system science. Students will be able to examine an animation of satellite images of Yellowstone National Park taken between 1987 and 1998. The satellite images display the changes in landscape of the park that take place over that eleven-year period. Such images provide information on the size of the portion of the park affected by the wildland fires of 1988. The images also provide information on the recovery of the park's vegetation.

The first satellite image displays the landscape of the park about one year before the wildand fires of 1988. Students can see the lush vegetation that covers the area. Smoke can be seen in the second satellite image, which was taken shortly after the fires had begun. The third satellite image was taken in October 1988 after the fires had just ended. The ash- and soot-darkened brown areas are the areas that were burned. They cover much of the image. The fourth satellite image was taken two years after the Yellowstone fires of 1988. There is little to no vegetation in the burned areas. They still appear brown from ash. In contrast, the adjacent forested areas are dark green. The last satellite image was taken 10 years after wildland fires raged through Yellowstone Park in 1988. Some dry scrub vegetation can be seen growing in the burned areas.

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Grade Level: 5-8

 

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