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Thermal Expansion and Sea Level Rise

Lisa Gardiner, Windows to the Universe

In this short but effective demonstration/experiment, students investigate how thermal expansion of water might affect sea level.

Experiment will take one class period.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Short Demonstration/Experiment supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 7 Cross Cutting Concepts, 3 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts, 3 Science and Engineering Practices

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7a

Energy Literacy

Other materials addressing:
2.4 Water stores and transfers energy.

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

  • Demonstration/experiment needs to be embedded in a lesson that explains the actual science around sea level rise. The given text can lead to misconceptions.
  • Include a discussion on ice sheets and glaciers to reinforce climate literacy principles.
  • Please reinforce the use of safety glasses.
  • Pay close attention, the expansion happens quickly. Have students watch the water carefully.

About the Science

  • A simple demonstration of thermal expansion.
  • The description talks about sea level rise at the end of the last ice age as well as the most recent sea level rise. The numbers given are not referenced and not discussed sufficiently. A lot more background information is required for students to put them into context.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Simple and clear experiment to demonstrate thermal expansion of water. Asks for predictions prior to observing what happens. Uses 14,000 years ago as the start of the present inter-glacial warm period. 10,000 years ago is the more commonly used and agreed upon.

About the Pedagogy

  • Focuses on a single concept and demonstrates it quite well.
  • Not too much supporting materials for teachers.
  • Educators might need to improve the assessment provided.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The learning outcomes ask students to compare and contrast thermal expansion with other ways sea level can rise and asks students to make predictions for coastlines. The resource only addresses the first learning goal.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Simple and to the point.

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

Another version of the activity is here: https://scied.ucar.edu/activity/thermal-expanson-seawater

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Short Demonstration/Experiment supports:

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