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Where Have All the Glaciers Gone?

National Center For Atmospheric Research

In this activity, students examine images of alpine glaciers to develop an understanding of how glaciers respond to climate change. They record, discuss, and interpret their observations. They consider explanations for changes in the size and position of glaciers from around the world. They develop an understanding that the melting (retreat) of glaciers is occurring simultaneously on different continents around the world, and, thus, they represent evidence of global climate change.

Activity takes about 1 class period to complete.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

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

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

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

  • Ideally students would do an analysis of the loss of glacier ice using a basic method of spatial analysis. Easiest way to do this would be to use transparent graphing paper on a map or an aerial photo.
  • Activity is part of a curriculum with additional relevant activities that can be found at: http://eo.ucar.edu/educators/ClimateDiscovery/
  • Quantitative aspects could be strengthened if students would do an analysis of the loss of glacier ice using a basic method of spatial analysis. Easiest way to do this would be to use transparent graphing paper on a map or an aerial photo.

About the Science

  • Very visual exercise that shows convincingly the response of alpine glaciers to global warming

About the Pedagogy

  • Well-presented short lesson – about 1 class period
  • Well-designed exercise that starts with a dramatic example from Switzerland, then offers the global perspective and finishes with a US glacier example. This assessment with an example from the south-western US makes it easier for US students to relate to the problem of glacial warming
  • Uses a Venn diagram to compare images -- a useful tool.
  • Performance assessment at the end is a good idea – students do postcards before and after from the same glacier
  • Interpretation of photos and discussions will engage students with different learning styles
  • Very worksheet oriented and not much data for students to ponder and analyze.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Very well organized and easy to implement for teachers
  • Good section for teacher preparation

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-ESS3-5:Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Stability and Change, Patterns, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C3.5:Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.

MS-C7.1: Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales, including the atomic scale.

Science and Engineering Practices: 3

Analyzing and Interpreting Data, 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-P4.2:Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

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

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