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Changing Planet: Permafrost Gas Leak

Missy Holzer, Jennifer Bergman, Roberta Johnson, NESTA/Windows to the Universe

This is a multi-faceted activity that offers students a variety of opportunities to learn about permafrost through an important sink and source of greenhouse gas (methane), about which most students living in lower latitudes know little.

Activity takes about four 45 min lessons (3-part activity and 30 min discussion).

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts, 7 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Equilibrium and feedback loops in climate system
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2f
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:E) Organizing information
Other materials addressing:
E) Organizing 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:2.2 The Living Environment:D) Flow of matter and energy
Other materials addressing:
D) Flow of matter and 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

  • Educators will need to familiarize themselves with websites associated with the various parts of the activity ahead of time, in addition to the worksheets and various data sets.

About the Science

  • As permafrost thaws, the land, atmosphere, water resources, ecosystems, and human communities are affected.
  • Background and data sources are National Snow and Ice Data Center and the U of Alaska, Fairbanks.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The activity sheet and teacher reference do not have much information themselves, and instead refers students to websites with a strong reputation such as the National Snow and Ice Data Centre, University of Alaska at Fairbanks, NOAA and Arctic Portal. In terms of handling, exploring and displaying primary data, this activity is excellent.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity can be done in parts or as a whole; components include a video, background reading, demos, map analysis, and borehole data analysis.
  • Students learn about composition of permafrost, identify the spatial distribution of permafrost, interpret borehole data and recognize trends in data, and analyze methane data and correlate it to the permafrost data.
  • There are a lot of support materials for teachers, including multiple suggestions for extensions.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • A number of links to data sources and tools: accessing websites for data - The Arctic Portal Mapping tool, Permafrost Laboratory Site, and the Google Earth files on the NSIDC site.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-ESS3-5:Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

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.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect

MS-C5.2: Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P5.1: Use digital tools (e.g., computers) to analyze very large data sets for patterns and trends.

MS-P6.4:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real- world phenomena, examples, or events.

MS-P8.1:Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s).

MS-P1.5:Ask questions that require sufficient and appropriate empirical evidence to answer.

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS2-6: Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

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-ESS2.E1:The many dynamic and delicate feedbacks between the biosphere and other Earth systems cause a continual co-evolution of Earth’s surface and the life that exists on it.

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.1:The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 7

Asking Questions and Defining Problems, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P1.1:ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P3.4:Select appropriate tools to collect, record, analyze, and evaluate data.

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P6.3:Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P7.4:Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence.

HS-P8.1:Critically read scientific literature adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas or conclusions and/or to obtain scientific and/or technical information to summarize complex evidence, concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

HS-P8.2:Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem.

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