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This activity in a case study format explores ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet by way of outlet glaciers that flow into the ocean. Students do basic calculations and learn about data trends, rates of change, uncertainty, and predictions.

Activity takes about 40 minutes.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This is the second of two case studies that examine ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet. The two case studies can be used independently or together, and there is an overarching teacher's guide that covers both case studies plus additional background information. https://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/climate_change/unit4_cover.html
  • This activity would tie in nicely with the topic of sea level rise.
  • Noted from the resource:
  • It is important to discuss the different mechanisms by which ice loss occurs across the Greenland ice sheet.
  • The Extreme Ice Survey time-lapse video clips (links to these clips are in the Resources section) may be useful in conveying the magnitude of the Greenland ice sheet and its outlet glaciers.
  • Consider doing a quick calculation exercise for visualization purposes to get students thinking about a glacier's area in km2 (e.g. how many classrooms equal a km2).
  • Reinforce students' understanding, if their initial calculations and predictions do not "match" the measured data, by reviewing calculating rates of change and making predictions using a trend line, and/or discuss that uncertainty is inherent in making predictions about complex systems like the Greenland ice sheet.

About the Content

  • Activity addresses calving of marine-terminating glaciers in Greenland as an ice loss mechanism, the prominence of this mechanism during the last decade as expressed in the data, and implications for future changes in the Greenland ice sheet.
  • Data from MODIS satellite technology is incorporated.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    -Great exercise!
    - Use of negative values with respect to rate of change
    - Reading graphs
    - Compares predicted to measured rate of changes

    - Numbers 4 and 5 should specific which Y-axis unit to use (km^2 or mi^2)

About the Pedagogy

  • This activity allows students to work with data firsthand and helps them see the decline in glacial area and the methods scientists use to predict future decline. Concepts, including math, are presented in a coherent manner and are well scaffolded.
  • Independently or in groups, students:
    - Calculate the average rate of change in area for a set of Greenland's marine-terminating outlet glaciers between 2001 and 2009.
    - Predict the area change for these glaciers for 2009–10.
    - Compare the predicted area changes to the measured area changes and evaluate the accuracy of the prediction.
    - Consider the ease of predicting future changes in the areas of marine-terminating outlet glaciers in Greenland.
  • High-quality references and background materials are provided, though the Byrd Polar Research Center links are broken at present. These are not essential in completing the activity.
  • Assessment strategies and an answer "guide" are provided. In many cases, the answers given by students will vary considerably, so the answer guide reflects this approach.
  • Student resources and an instructor's guide are provided.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • This activity is well thought out and carefully described. All of the materials are included and each step of the process is thoroughly documented. Supplemental resources are also provided.
  • Activity resources are available as both Word and PDF downloads.
Entered the Collection: May 2018 Last Reviewed: July 2016

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