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Is Greenland Melting?

Betsy Youngman, Earth Exploration Toolbook Chapter from TERC

Data-centric activity where students explore the connections between an observable change in the cryosphere and its potential impact in the hydrosphere and atmosphere. Students analyze the melt extents on the Greenland ice sheet from 1992-2003. Students also learn about how scientists collect the data.

Activity takes three to five 45-minute class periods. Computer access is required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Performance Expectation, 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b
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: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

About the Science

  • Great visualizations and video clips.
  • Discussion section includes thought provoking questions.
  • Includes websites for background and a list of books and articles for students and educators.
  • Activity is very closely tied to current scientific activities, with abundant links and references to primary sites and data.
  • Comment from scientist: Greenland is presented out of context. No other regions with glacier change or sources of sea level rise are mentioned. This piece should be added by educator.
  • Comment from scientist: No distinction is made here between the observation of melt at the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet and what actually happens to that melt. Much of the activity is devoted to the study of changing surface melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet, but the potential significance of that melt isn’t made very clear. The reader is more or less invited to suppose that the dramatic changes observed in the extent of surface melt translate onto either dramatically increased rates of mass loss from the ice sheet, or dramatically altered controls on basal lubrication. These aren’t necessarily true – a poorly constrained, but potentially very large, fraction of surface melt refreezes locally without influencing either mass loss or basal hydrology. This is one of the great unknowns in Greenland surface mass balance.

About the Pedagogy

  • This is an inquiry-based activity.
  • The educator needs to realize that it is a very involved activity with a large learning curve in the use of the software. Educators will need to be careful that students don't lose sight of the science while getting deep into the details of the tools.
  • This is well-suited to educators who are willing to make the investment of time and money in acquiring, installing and learning the software.
  • The material and activity structure is very rich and may be worth exploring even if the full GIS activity isn't practical. See teaching tips for additional ideas.
  • Engages students in learning both the science and how to apply GIS.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Instructions for students and educators are very explicit and clear.
  • Requires the use of commercial software which will have to be installed on all the computers. A free trial version is available. A classroom license is also available for a fee.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 1

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

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.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.

HS-ESS3.D:Global Climate Change

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

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-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

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

HS-C3.4:Using the concept of orders of magnitude allows one to understand how a model at one scale relates to a model at another scale.

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: 8

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

HS-P1.3:ask questions to determine relationships, including quantitative relationships, between independent and dependent variables

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-P5.4:Use simple limit cases to test mathematical expressions, computer programs, algorithms, or simulations of a process or system to see if a model “makes sense” by comparing the outcomes with what is known about the real world.

HS-P6.4:Apply scientific reasoning, theory, and/or models to link evidence to the claims to assess the extent to which the reasoning and data support the explanation or conclusion.

HS-P7.5:Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.3:Gather, read, and evaluate scientific and/or technical information from multiple authoritative sources, assessing the evidence and usefulness of each source.

HS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

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