On Monday, February 4th 2019, the E.C.C. Environmental Science class of Holland High School conducted their monthly NASA GLOBE cloud observation by walking outside into the parking lot and collecting several different observational measurements of the sky and horizon. The students and their teacher, Mrs. Pamela Patterson, recorded there being fewer than 10% total cloud cover that morning with those being high, cirrus clouds, and no mid to low-lying clouds.
The next day, Mrs. Patterson received an email from the NASA GLOBE cloud team confirming the submission of the class’ data and providing her with corresponding NASA satellite match to compare the two sets of information and findings. When reviewing the satellite data, Patterson noticed a strange differentiation between the observations of her class and those of the satellite.
While the class had reported there to be fewer than 10% total cloud cover, lying mostly high with little to no low-lying clouds, NASA had come back with a satellite analysis recording a total cloud cover on 54.81% majorly in the lower range with some sporadically in the midlevel range. Perplexed by such an extreme disagreement between the two sources’ findings, Patterson reached out to Professor Michael Jabot based out of SUNY Fredonia University who was then able to make contact with NASA for more clarification.
NASA soon responded with what they believe to explain the disruption. The satellite used to collect NASA’s data has a range of approximately 69 miles, exceeding the visual range of the environmental science students. It can be observed on the satellite scans of the area that the majority of low-lying clouds were recorded north and south of the class’ location, while there is little cloud cover over the location itself.
The NASA GLOBE cloud team thanked the class for pointing out this example of a satellite discrepancy with what may be visible to the eye and the information turned into them, and the environmental science class continues to submit cloud observations, now taking photos of the sky each time as part of their records.