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Sea Ice Yearly Minimum in the Arctic

GSFC/Science Visualization Studio, NASA

This series of visualizations show the annual Arctic sea ice minimum from 1979 to 2010. The decrease in Arctic sea ice over time is shown in an animation and a graph plotted simultaneously, but can be parsed so that the change in sea ice area can be shown without the graph.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future. The magnitude and direction of this change is not the same at all locations on Earth.
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Environmental observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system. From the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the Sun, instruments on weather stations, buoys, satellites, and other platforms collect climate data. To learn about past climates, scientists use natural records, such as tree rings, ice cores, and sedimentary layers. Historical observations, such as native knowledge and personal journals, also document past climate change.
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understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling
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Melting of ice sheets and glaciers, combined with the thermal expansion of seawater as the oceans warm, is causing sea level to rise. Seawater is beginning to move onto low-lying land and to contaminate coastal fresh water sources and beginning to submerge coastal facilities and barrier islands. Sea-level rise increases the risk of damage to homes and buildings from storm surges such as those that accompany hurricanes.
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
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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

  • Visualization can be used to introduce the value of long-term data sets.
  • If educator prefers to have students take data and draw the graph themselves, see http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/archives/image_select.html.
  • Educator can show students the visualization of the sea ice first, and then engage class to hypothesize whether it is increasing or decreasing. Graph can be shown on a separate overlay and students can hypothesize how the change is affecting the ecosystem.
  • It may be helpful to narrow students in on a particular location on the visualization - to help them see the differences over time.

About the Science

  • The continued significant reduction in the extent of the summer sea ice cover is a dramatic illustration of the pronounced impact increased global temperatures are having on the Arctic regions. There has also been a significant reduction in the relative amount of older, thicker ice. Satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice cover have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the extent of the Arctic ice cover since 1979. The ice parameters derived from satellite ice concentration data that are most relevant to climate change studies are sea ice extent and ice area.
  • This visualization shows ice extent in the background and ice area in the foreground.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Animation can be downloaded in a variety of forms allowing an educator to infuse this into a lesson on Arctic climate changes.
  • The video could be used in a class presentation or images can be presented on a worksheet.
  • Students should have an understanding of concepts of area vs. volume and concentration, what sea ice is and its importance.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Easy to use.
  • A number of different sizes and file formats are available for download. However, some of the files are large and take a long time to download, so the educator should download prior to the class. Simple and complex animation files are available and the variety of image types makes this a very customizable tool.
  • Difficult to see difference in color coding; might be useful to watch multiple times to better visualize and differentiate.

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