Clouds and Becoming a Citizen Scientist


In this ENGAGE section you will learn about what clouds do. You will learn how they affect us here on good old planet Earth. View the short video to get some idea about the wonders of our sky. Now see if you can answer all of these questions. 1. What are clouds made from? 2. What often falls from clouds? 3. What do some types of clouds do to Sunlight? 4. How can clouds warm the Earth? 5. How are clouds important to the “Hydrologic” or Water Cycle? Learn more about how clouds are made and what they do for us on earth at:


In this EXPLORE section, you will learn more about clouds. Did you know that clouds come in different types?  Some clouds are very high in the sky and some clouds touch the ground. Visit this site to learn more about clouds and cloud typing.  Please make sure the sound is on.

After viewing the site, see if you can answer these questions:

  1. What is the name given to clouds that look like big cotton balls?
  2. What is the name given to very high clouds that look like feathers?
  3. What is the name of clouds that touch the ground?


In this EXPLAIN section, visit the UCAR (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research) website to learn about the cloud groups and associated heights. This section will go into more detail about the clouds you will be observing and reporting on. Go to: UCAR Cloud Types: They have some weird or unusual clouds that you may be called upon to identify, even a type of cloud that is made by humans. How do you think Contrails are made? Now try your hand at matching the clouds to their cloud type. Drag the picture over the name of the cloud. If you are correct you will get the points, if you are incorrect, the picture will snap back. Good luck.

The chart above is useful when trying to decide the type of cloud. Each type of cloud is associated with a type of weather and for its ability to either cool or heat our climate.

You may wish to become an important observer to ground truth the findings from NASA satellites. NASA is quite concerned with the role clouds play in Earth’s climate. To get data to make their study, they launched two satellites called Aqua and Terra. These satellites have been in low Earth orbit for almost 20 years! They orbit the Earth 16 times a day capturing all kinds of data including cloud cover. Each satellite makes a complete map of the Earth every two days. The amount of cloud cover, the height of the clouds, and other factors like man made contrails from planes, smoke, fog and dust affect the balance of energy from the Sun. It is really important to know if the data collected by Aqua, Terra and a few other NASA satellites is correct. It is very useful to have a scientist observe the sky to see if the data from the satellite resembles the visible sky in its path. That is where you come in! NASA needs scientists under the path of the satellites to provide data to support or alter the data collection. So NASA has teamed up with the GLOBE network to crowd source the data from 120 countries around the world.


In this EXTEND section, you will learn how you can become a citizen scientist and helps scientists at NASA and around the world. You can learn about the collaboration between NASA and GLOBE by viewing this short video: 

You may participate as a citizen scientist and ground truth the satellites by either using a web site connection portal or through the use of an app. We recommend the use of the app as it guides you through the process. You have learned that the clouds above you don’t stay still, they are always in motion. Therefore it is strongly recommended that you time your observation of the sky to the time the satellite is passing over heard (+ or – 15 minutes). That will depend upon where you are on good old Earth. If you use the website, you will have to locate your co ordinates on a map, and download the satellite pass information for the time period. Lot’s of extra steps using the old web site. Using the website you will have to do each step independently:

1. Find satellite overpass
2. Print off the Observation Sheet, go outside and observe the sky completing a lot of information about cloud cover, sky color, and the like
3. Take the data sheet and upload the data to the NASA site.
4. Lastly, you can request the data the satellite collected for comparison. Fortunately there is an easier way. Using your device (smart phone, tablet) you can download the App for IOS and Android at no cost. I have an iPhone, so the directions will be for that device. I a sure the Android interface is similar.

1. First go to the App source. Look for the “GLOBE Observer” app.
2. After downloading the App, you will need to set up a GLOBE account, requiring a valid email and make up a password.

3. You will then go to the proper citizen science section. There are three other sites on this same app covering mosquito habitat, adopting a pixel (a in depth land cover study of a selected area) and tree studies

After selecting the cloud title, you will see this page: The app will take you through the process of the study of your sky on the selected day.

5. Your smart phone does most of the work for you here. It knows where it is on a map, so you don’t have to input that information. It also knows what the correct time is. Again, saving you work. Remember it is best to make the observations within 15 minutes of the satellites passing overhead. You can find out the times by clicking the Check Satellite Flyovers button. It will list the name of the satellite and the time it will pass right over your head. You can do this a day ahead of time or even a week ahead of time.

6. Now it is time to take your New Cloud Observations. You will first be asked about your sky – do you see contrails? Check the best response.

7. Now it will ask you to select the color of the blue sky (if visible). Check the best response. Scroll down to select the best sky visibility rating. Check the best response.

8. Now select Yes or No for each of the surface conditions. The selection of light off the ground surface can affect what the satellite sees so after selection proceed to next.

9. Now you can use the camera in your device to record the sky. While taking the pictures think back to the lesson on cloud types. Do you know what clouds are in the sky? Click the Take Pictures option. The device will have you move your device to a “landscape” orientation.

When you click the button, the device will use its camera to take photos of the sky in the four cardinal directions *N,E,S,W as well as directly overhead (Up)and underfoot (Down). As you move your device try to align the target with the circle in the center of the screen. When you have aligned the target with the circle the photo will be taken automatically. When all of the six targets are complete, click the Done button. At that time you can either review/edit the observations, or send in all Cloud Data Now. You can share you data. All over the world people just like you are collecting this important data.

There are a few other items on the menu that are quite useful. The ? – gives you the help menu. The “key” icon will bring up the cloud chart to help you select your choices. The “alarm” icon will alert you to satellite passes and scheduled observations. The “home” button will take you home. You can access the data collected from around the globe by clicking All Today’s Cloud Measurements. There are 9 screens of data collected.


In this EVALUATE section, we ask that you perform a self evaluation. After submitting your Cloud observation, you can click on the My Observation tab. It will list all the information you uploaded and will reveal the types of low, middle and high clouds based upon your photos. Give yourself a grade, how close were you to the cloud types listed as you were doing your photos?

Would you like to share your results? We would love to post them along with a photo of your observing crew. You can upload them to the Children’s Museum of Virginia Facebook page.