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Is Greenland Melting?

Betsy Youngman, Earth Exploration Toolbook Chapter from TERC

Data-centric activity where students explore the connections between an observable change in the cryosphere and its potential impact in the hydrosphere and atmosphere. Students analyze the melt extents on the Greenland ice sheet from 1992-2003. Students also learn about how scientists collect the data.

Activity takes three to five 45-minute class periods. Computer access is required.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b
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: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

About the Science

  • Great visualizations and video clips.
  • Discussion section includes thought provoking questions.
  • Includes websites for background and a list of books and articles for students and educators.
  • Activity is very closely tied to current scientific activities, with abundant links and references to primary sites and data.
  • Comment from scientist: Greenland is presented out of context. No other regions with glacier change or sources of sea level rise are mentioned. This piece should be added by educator.
  • Comment from scientist: No distinction is made here between the observation of melt at the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet and what actually happens to that melt. Much of the activity is devoted to the study of changing surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet, but the potential significance of that melt isn’t made very clear. The reader is more or less invited to suppose that the dramatic changes observed in the extent of surface melt translate onto either dramatically increased rates of mass loss from the ice sheet, or dramatically altered controls on basal lubrication. These aren’t necessarily true – a poorly constrained, but potentially very large, fraction of surface melt refreezes locally without influencing either mass loss or basal hydrology. This is one of the great unknowns in Greenland surface mass balance.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is an inquiry-based activity.
  • The educator needs to realize that it is a very involved activity with a large learning curve in the use of the software. Educators will need to be careful that students don't lose sight of the science while getting deep into the details of the tools.
  • This is well suited to educators who are willing to make the investment of time and money in acquiring, installing and learning the software.
  • The material and activity structure is very rich and may be worth exploring even if the full GIS activity isn't practical. See teaching tips for additional ideas.
  • Engages students in learning both the science and how to apply GIS.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Instructions for students and educators are very explicit and clear.
  • Requires the use of commercial software which will have to be installed on all the computers. A free trial version is available. A classroom license is also available for a fee.

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