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Documenting Glacial Change


A collection of repeat photography of glaciers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The photos are taken years apart at or near the same location, and at the same time of year. These images illustrate how dramatically glacier positions can change even over a relatively short period in geological time: 60 to 100 years. Background essay and discussion questions are included.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Simulation/Interactive supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts
High School: 3 Disciplinary Core Ideas

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Global warming and especially arctic warming is recorded in natural geological and historic records
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4e
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b
Effects of climate change on water cycle and freshwater availability
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7b

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

  • Great to use in a geography lesson as well as a science lesson.
  • Original photographs are available on the NSIDC website: http://nsidc.org/data/glacier_photo/index.html
  • Glaciers are changing rapidly. Search for up to date imagery and data while teaching this topic.

About the Science

  • The Background Essay gives a nice overview of causes and effects of glacial retreat.
  • The effect on the immediate environment, once glaciers recede, is readily apparent. Receding glaciers leave telltale signs of their presence in the landscape. With the ice gone, glaciated terrain may be characterized by an eroded valley bed and debris piles, ripe for colonization by pioneer plant species.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The background essay excels in explaining many basic and important concepts. In order to understand why glaciers respond to climate changes, the concept of mass balance is crucial, and the explanation is straightforward and clear. Could be updated with more recent images.

About the Pedagogy

  • Easy to see the changes over time.
  • Discussion questions are provided.
  • Image pairs are supported by an essay and links to other resources, both print and media.
  • A possible misconception is that the images are taken in different seasons, which accounts for the different amounts of snow and ice. Reinforce the idea that the pairs of images are taken at the same time of year.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Sliders work well. Photos are well-enough-aligned for change over time to be striking.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Simulation/Interactive supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

MS-ESS2.A2:The planet’s systems interact over scales that range from microscopic to global in size, and they operate over fractions of a second to billions of years. These interactions have shaped Earth’s history and will determine its future.

MS-ESS2.C1:Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.

MS-ESS2.C5:Water’s movements—both on the land and underground—cause weathering and erosion, which change the land’s surface features and create underground formations.

MS-LS2.C1:Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

MS-LS4.D1:Changes in biodiversity can influence humans’ resources, such as food, energy, and medicines, as well as ecosystem services that humans rely on—for example, water purification and recycling.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Patterns, Cause and effect

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

MS-C2:Cause and effect

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 3

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

HS-ESS2.C1:The abundance of liquid water on Earth’s surface and its unique combination of physical and chemical properties are central to the planet’s dynamics. These properties include water’s exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy, transmit sunlight, expand upon freezing, dissolve and transport materials, and lower the viscosities and melting points of rocks.

HS-LS2.C2:Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species.

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