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Losing Permafrost in Alaska

Spanner Films, WGBH Educational Foundation

This video and accompanying essay review the impacts of rising surface air temperatures and thawing permafrost on ecosystems, geology, and native populations in Alaska.

Video length: 4:13 minutes.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Video supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas
High School: 4 Disciplinary Core Ideas

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate's role in habitats ranges and adaptation of species to climate changes
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3a
Evidence shows that human-caused global warming have impacted ecosystem resulting in reduced biodiversity and ecological resilience
About Teaching Principle 6
Other materials addressing 6d
Ecosystems on land and in the ocean have been and will continue to be disturbed by climate change
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7e

Energy Literacy

Environmental quality is impacted by energy choices.
Other materials addressing:
7.3 Environmental quality.
Some populations are more vulnerable to impacts of energy choices than others.
Other materials addressing:
7.6 Vulnerable populations.
Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
Other materials addressing:
4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Energy decisions are influenced by environmental factors.
Other materials addressing:
5.6 Environmental factors.

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

  • Video and accompanying essay and discussion questions could be used in a single class period overview of the impacts of rising Arctic temperatures.
  • Very general resource but could be used to demonstrate the impact on indigenous cultures.

About the Science

  • Shows the current impacts of thawing permafrost on buildings and roads, lakes, riverbanks, and some wildlife including fish. For the most part, the information provided is anecdotal rather than based on comprehensive scientific studies. It does not discuss the science of climate change or permafrost thawing.
  • Video and accompanying background essay use the terms "thawing" and "melting" interchangeably. "Thawing" is the correct term for the temperature-induced change in permafrost.
  • Comments from expert scientist: I liked how people living in the changing permafrost environment were interviewed. This "first-hand", applied, observational perspective coupled nicely with the scientific explanation provided. As a stand alone module, a bit of background regarding why permafrost is there and the link between fossil fuel combustion and climate warming would be useful.

About the Pedagogy

  • Consists of a set of loosely-related interviews of Alaskan residents describing the impacts they see from rising Arctic temperatures.
  • Background essay and discussion questions provided.
  • An entire lesson plan - The Effects of Global Warming in Alaska can be accessed as well.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Video meant for smaller screen; pixelated when enlarged. Might be better downloaded.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Video supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

MS-PS4.B1:When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the frequency (color) of the light.

MS-ESS2.C1:Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.

MS-ESS2.C5:Water’s movements—both on the land and underground—cause weathering and erosion, which change the land’s surface features and create underground formations.

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

MS-ESS3.D1:Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 4

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

HS-ESS2.C1:The abundance of liquid water on Earth’s surface and its unique combination of physical and chemical properties are central to the planet’s dynamics. These properties include water’s exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy, transmit sunlight, expand upon freezing, dissolve and transport materials, and lower the viscosities and melting points of rocks.

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS3.D1:Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts.

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