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Thermal Expansion of Water

ARM Climate Research Facility

This is a short experiment to demonstrate the concept of thermal expansion of water when heated, as an analogy to thermal expansion of oceans due to global warming.

Activity takes one class period. Additional materials needed.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

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:G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations
Other materials addressing:
G) Drawing conclusions and developing explanations.
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
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:B) Changes in matter
Other materials addressing:
B) Changes in matter.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
Other materials addressing:
C) Energy.

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

  • Experiment fits well in a learning sequence on sea level rise and climate change.
  • Activity can easily be done without a bunsen burner. It works well if the flask is put in sunlight (which is a much more realistic set-up and better comparison to what is happening in the real world). It takes less than a 45-min class period for the water level to rise significantly.

About the Science

  • Easy demonstration to support a discussion about thermal expansion and global sea level rise.
  • Additional background information necessary to support the concept of thermal expansion in oceans and the connection to global warming. This NOAA Ocean Heat Content resource could be very helpful: http://www.climatewatch.noaa.gov/article/2011/climate-change-ocean-heat-content.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Experiment is visual and simple to perform but the explanations are sketchy and some points are false. It is advised to track down other background materials for explanations.

About the Pedagogy

    Detailed instructions for the experimental set-up are included; activity can be done as a class demonstration or a hands-on experiment.
  • Hands-on activity will engage students of different learning styles.
  • The “Important points to remember” might confuse students. The wording is not scientifically clear, “If this heat from global temperature rise is passed on to the water, water expands and increases in volume.” Another way to write this might be “As the heat from global temperature increases, it is passed on to the ocean. The ocean expands and increases in volume. At the present, warming of ocean water is raising global sea level because water expands when it warms.”

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • If done without a bunsen burner this activity can be done in any classroom.

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