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Global Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

California Academy of Sciences

In this activity, students will practice the steps involved in a scientific investigation as they learn why ice formations on land (and not those on water) will cause a rise in sea level upon melting. This is a discovery lesson in ice and water density and displacement of water by ice floating on the surface as it relates to global climate change.

Activity takes one 45-minute classroom period. Additional materials are required including access to a freezer and water.

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Sea Level Rise
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Grade Level

Middle (6-8)
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Activity doesn't seem appropriate for students younger than middle school age even though this is stated in activity.

Regional Focus

Islands, Oceans (Global)
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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Covering 70% of Earth's surface, the ocean exerts a major control on climate by dominating Earth's energy and water cycles. It has the capacity to absorb large amounts of solar energy. Heat and water vapor are redistributed globally through density-driven ocean currents and atmospheric circulation. Changes in ocean circulation caused by tectonic movements or large influxes of fresh water from melting polar ice can lead to significant and even abrupt changes in climate, both locally and on global scales.
About Teaching Principle 2
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understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling
About Teaching Principle O
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Melting of ice sheets and glaciers, combined with the thermal expansion of seawater as the oceans warm, is causing sea level to rise. Seawater is beginning to move onto low-lying land and to contaminate coastal fresh water sources and beginning to submerge coastal facilities and barrier islands. Sea-level rise increases the risk of damage to homes and buildings from storm surges such as those that accompany hurricanes.
About Teaching Principle 7
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
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B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Educator needs to strengthen the link between Sea Level Rise worksheet and the activities.
  • A model of the molecular structure of water may be helpful with lesson.
  • Instructions are unclear how much food color to use - might require some experimentation.
  • Suggestion from educator: Ruler does not work, use a permanent marker instead to draw the height at the beginning of the experiment as well as every hour. In addition - good idea to use a light to warm the ice for an increase in melting rate.

About the Science

  • Great educator background with good explanation of thermohaline circulation and properties of water, as well as the importance of salinity (density) and temperature on the circulation.
  • Very good supplemental materials.
  • Resources are automatically and constantly updated from reliable sources.
  • This experiment does not follow the protocol of a true scientific investigation.
  • Comment from scientist: The slowing of the thermohaline circulation and its causes are not clearly understood and the cause of much debate in oceanography and cryospheric sciences currently. It is, therefore, necessary to make sure this uncertainty is well understood by the students.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity can be used as a hands-on activity or demonstration.
  • Effective visualizations and photos to guide students and educator in lab setup.
  • Robust educator background section.
  • There is the potential that the students might not meet the stated objectives of this lesson. The investigation and resources do not give enough student information to meet objectives such as "ice is less dense than water"; displacement is a hard concept for ELL students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Includes entire lesson in PDF.
  • Need access to a freezer:
  • 20-minute prep time (at least); block scheduling is ideal for investigation.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

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