Idea for Use in the Classroom (High School)

National Geographic and Rolex recently partnered to support an expedition to install weather stations on Mount Everest. These weather stations are among the highest in the world and transmit data back in real-time. 

Begin by asking students to read the encyclopedic entries Mount Everest and Altitude to build their background knowledge on this extreme environment. Then have them watch the video Real-Time Data from Mt. Everest (above) and read the article Inside the Everest Expedition that Built the World’s Highest Weather Station to become familiar with the expedition and data set students will be working with. Next, direct students to the interactive map of Everest, and encourage them to click on each of the points along the expedition route, read the accompanying text, and view the image. Have students use the weather data widget to examine the data at each of the stations. Use the Perpetual Planet Data Table handout to record the temperature and pressure values for one week for each of the weather stations. 

Note: Sometimes, when working with live data, things go wrong. Extreme winds blow the weather station clean off the mountain, a tool freezes, or there is a poor connection with the satellite transmitting the data. If the linked Perpetual Planet widgets are down, use the data in this pre-completed Perpetual Planet Data Table Backup Data handout to complete the activity.

Once students have completed their data collection, ask them what trends they notice in the data. They should observe that both temperature and pressure decrease as elevation increases. Explain that, in the troposphere, the reason temperature decreases as pressure decreases is because the air molecules expand and cool as they rise.

Tell students that there are two ratios we can use to calculate how temperature changes relative to altitude/elevation, called the dry adiabatic lapse rate and wet or moist adiabatic lapse rate. Mt. Everest has very dry air, so in this case, students will need the dry adiabatic lapse rate which states that the temperature decreases by approximately 9.8 degrees Celsius for every 1000 meters (or approximately 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1000 feet) gained in elevation. Give students the Mt. Everest Adiabatic Lapse Rate handout and ask them to follow the directions to explore how this real data approximately follows that pattern.