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Global Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

California Academy of Sciences

In this activity, students will practice the steps involved in a scientific investigation as they learn why ice formations on land (and not those on water) will cause a rise in sea level upon melting. This is a discovery lesson on ice and water density and displacement of water.

Activity takes one 45-minute classroom period. Additional materials are required including access to a freezer and water.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 13 Science and Engineering Practices


Sea Level Rise
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Grade Level

Middle (6-8)
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Activity doesn't seem appropriate for students younger than middle school age even though this is stated in activity.

Regional Focus

Islands, Oceans (Global)
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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2b
Our understanding of climate
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Our understanding of climate
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:B) Designing investigations
Other materials addressing:
B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
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.

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

  • Educator needs to strengthen the link between sea level rise worksheet and the activities.
  • A model of the molecular structure of water may be helpful with this lesson.
  • Instructions are unclear how much food color to use - might require some experimentation.
  • Suggestion from educator: Ruler does not work, use a permanent marker instead to draw the height at the beginning of the experiment as well as every hour. In addition - good idea to use a light to warm the ice for an increase in melting rate.

About the Science

  • Great educator background with good explanation of thermohaline circulation and properties of water, as well as the importance of salinity and temperature on circulation.
  • Very good supplemental materials.
  • Resources are automatically and constantly updated from reliable sources.
  • This experiment does not follow the protocol of a true scientific investigation.
  • Comment from scientist: The slowing of the thermohaline circulation and its causes are not clearly understood and the cause of much debate in oceanography and cryospheric sciences currently. It is, therefore, necessary to make sure this uncertainty is well understood by the students.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity can be used as a hands-on activity or demonstration.
  • Effective visualizations and photos to guide students and educator in lab setup.
  • Robust educator background section.
  • There is the potential that the students might not meet the stated objectives of this lesson. The investigation and resources do not give enough student information to meet objectives such as "ice is less dense than water"; displacement is a hard concept for ELL students.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Includes entire lesson in PDF.
  • Need access to a freezer:
  • 20-minute prep time (at least); block scheduling is ideal for investigation.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

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: 7

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect

MS-C1.3: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.

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

MS-C2.1:Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C5.1:Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes.

MS-C7.2: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

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

Science and Engineering Practices: 13

Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

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

MS-P1.3:Ask questions to determine relationships between independent and dependent variables and relationships in models.

MS-P1.6:Ask questions that can be investigated within the scope of the classroom, outdoor environment, and museums and other public facilities with available resources and, when appropriate, frame a hypothesis based on observations and scientific principles.

MS-P2.1:Evaluate limitations of a model for a proposed object or tool.

MS-P2.3:Use and/or develop a model of simple systems with uncertain and less predictable factors.

MS-P2.5:Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.

MS-P3.1:Plan an investigation individually and collaboratively, and in the design: identify independent and dependent variables and controls, what tools are needed to do the gathering, how measurements will be recorded, and how many data are needed to support a claim.

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

MS-P4.7:Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.

MS-P5.2:Use mathematical representations to describe and/or support scientific conclusions and design solutions

MS-P6.1:Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict(s) and/or describe(s) phenomena.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

MS-P6.5:Apply scientific reasoning to show why the data or evidence is adequate for the explanation or conclusion

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