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Graphing the Extent of Sea Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic

Randy Russell, Windows to the Universe

In this activity, students learn about sea ice extent in both polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic). They start out by forming a hypothesis on the variability of sea ice, testing the hypothesis by graphing real data from a recent 3-year period to learn about seasonal variations and over a 25-year period to learn about longer-term trends, and finish with a discussion of their results and predictions.

Activity takes about 30-45 minutes.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Grade Level

Activity can possibly be a homework assignment at high school level, but should be done in class at the middle school level.

Regional Focus

Climate Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Climate Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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

  • Intro to activity: Ideally educator would start activity by introducing how lesson fits into climate science (albedo, ocean circulations, migration patterns).
  • Wrapping up the activity: "Why do we care about sea ice extent? How does this affect life on Earth?"
  • Information on sea ice and sea ice formation should be provided by the educator as well as information on what the role of sea ice is for global warming and the thermohaline circulation.
  • Educators might want to copy and paste data into Excel format to include a technology piece.
  • Up-to-date data and imagery is available from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) site and can augment this activity.

About the Content

  • Carefully designed activity that introduces students to the concept of seasonality of sea ice and its extent, both in terms of seasonal variations and longer term trends.
  • Quality of data is excellent (well-referenced, up-to-date).
  • Information on more current data is provided in activity.
  • Great practice - have the students make predictions on the graph before plotting the data. This will address the misconceptions that the maximum sea ice extent occurs during the coldest month (December) and the minimum sea ice extent occurs during the warmest month (June), which is not the case.
  • Lesson provides a "teachable moment" to address the misconception of similar seasons in the two hemispheres.

About the Pedagogy

  • Students are using the scientific process of forming a hypothesis, collecting data, and interpreting the results.
  • Forming a hypothesis, graphing data, and discussing results will engage students with different learning styles.
  • Very thorough background materials and educator's notes provided.
  • Great extrapolation at the end of the activity of predicting sea ice extent into the future.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Clear, concise writing and well-thought-out and organized activity - ready to use.
Entered the Collection: February 2012 Last Reviewed: October 2016

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