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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

Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2b
Our understanding of climate
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Our understanding of climate
Sea level rise and resulting impacts is due to melting ice and thermal expansion and increases the risk
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7a

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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