Jump to this Activity »
Global Climate: Estimating How Much Sea Level Changes When Continental Ice Sheets Form

Paul Butler, The Evergreen State College, SERC Pedagogic Service Project

In this activity, students estimate the drop in sea level during glacial maxima, when ice and snow in high latitudes and altitudes resulted in lower sea levels. Students estimate the surface area of the world's oceans, use ice volume data to approximate how much sea levels dropped, and determine the sea-level rise that would occur if the remaining ice melted.

Activity will take about two to three hours.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 5 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

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

  • Activity does not really point to original data source. Educator could email author for more info or find out current numbers by doing online research.
  • Educator would ideally use a group approach,in which students with solid math and Excel skills partner with less-skilled students.
  • Instructions in spreadsheet are not well laid out - rephrasing them on a worksheet might be more effective.

About the Science

  • Although this activity was created in 2008, concepts and procedures are still relevant and applicable.
  • Background reading material is not provided.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The objectives of this activity are important. Students need lots of practice making reasonable estimates and doing quantitative work, and I feel that this activity is a nice contribution towards those objectives. This is also a nice example of a global-scale issue, and I think students benefit from seeing that they can examine the very largest systems.

About the Pedagogy

  • Instructor version with answer key of the module is available by request.
  • Students work with quantitative data in Excel to problem-solve an engaging topic.
  • No concluding or thought-provoking questions are provided, but educator could easily come up with relevant questions. Assignment is simply based on the calculations.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Students will need a basic working knowledge of Excel; otherwise, an introduction to Excel is necessary.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

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.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 7

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Stability and Change

HS-C1.1:Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

HS-C2.4:Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal 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-C3.5:Algebraic thinking is used to examine scientific data and predict the effect of a change in one variable on another (e.g., linear growth vs. exponential growth).

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

Science and Engineering Practices: 5

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

HS-P4.3:Consider limitations of data analysis (e.g., measurement error, sample selection) when analyzing and interpreting data

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-P8.4: Evaluate the validity and reliability of and/or synthesize multiple claims, methods, and/or designs that appear in scientific and technical texts or media reports, verifying the data when possible.

Jump to this Activity »