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Climate, Cryosphere



Tim Flannery's book, "The Weather Makers," discusses results of a core sample analysis from Bonaparte Gulf in Australia. The sample indicates that about 19,000 years ago in a period of only 100 to 500 years, sea levels rose by an estimated nine to fourteen meters (ten to fifteen yards). This abrupt rise in water had apparently come from the collapse of an ice sheet in the Northern Hemisphere. The amount of water released was between one quarter and two Sverdrups poured into the north Atlantic (a Severdrup is equal to 1 million cubic meters per second - or about 264 million gallons per second). In addition to disrupting the Gulf Stream, there had to be profound worldwide consequences of this event.

One need not go back 19,000 years to be concerned about ice sheet melting. A 2002 National Geographic article discusses the impact of global warming on ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. These regions hold 77 percent of the world's fresh water and if completely melted, would raise sea levels approximately 69 meters (75 yards).

Recent research by NASA Goddard scientists indicates that when the weather is warmer, the Greenland ice sheets are moving faster. This happens when meltwater pours through large channels until it arrives at the base of the ice sheet. This meltwater serves as a lubricant, allowing the ice sheet to move faster.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports that the global sea level is currently rising as a result of ocean thermal expansion and glacier melt, both caused by a rise in global mean temperature.



In the July 28-August 2, 2007 issue of New Scientist magazine, NASA scientist James Hansen is quoted as saying: "I Find it almost inconceivable that "business as usual" climate change will not result in a rise in sea level measured in meters within a century." (p. 31.) Further he says: "Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to the rise in recent years. Gravity measurements by the GRACE satellites have recently shown that the ice sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica are each losing about 150 cubic kilometres of ice per year. Spread over the oceans, this is close to 1 millimetre a year, or 10 centimetres per century.

USA Today regards Dr. Hansen's statement as a matter of great interest. The editors there have contacted your team of Earth Scientists for assistance with these dire warnings. They want to evaluate Dr. Hansen's statements in order to validate his predictions. Your Earth system analysis of this situation will help to understand the dilemma (if there is one), the causes and ramifications of increased ice melt and, if appropriate, what may be done to mitigate or lessen the impact.


Date: 7/23/2007

Scenario Images:

Tour of the Cryosphere
In a little more than 7 minutes NASA's Tour of the Cryosphere leads viewers across the icy reaches of Antarctic, the drifting expanse of polar sea ice, the shrinking cap around the North Pole, and more. Click here to watch movie.

May take several minutes to load on slower connections. Tip for using in the classroom: download the animation or images from the animation to your computer.

west coast of Greenland
West Coast of Greenland - NASA's Terra satellite took this image of the west coast of Greenland on June 26, 2006. This image shows the melt zone along the edge of the Greenland ice sheet. Unlike the brilliant, uniform white of the ice farther inland, the melt zone is gray where it is becoming saturated with water. Gray-blue melt ponds dot the fringes of the melt zone. These delicate-looking ponds can be destructive to the ice sheet. As the melt water in the ponds works its way down to the base of the ice, it eases the friction between the ice and the underlying rock. This lubrication causes the ice to move more quickly toward the sea. Read more about this image or download it.



Greenland Ice Sheet Flows Faster During Summer Melting (Cycle A)
June 6, 2002, press release from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.


NASA - Researchers Warm Up to Melt's Role in Greenland Ice Loss (Cycle A)
April 17, 2008 - Article on NASA research using computer models to show how melt could contribute to the observed speed up of the Greenland ice loss.


NASA's Tour of the Cryosphere: Earth's Frozen Assets (Video) (Cycle A)
In a little more than 7 minutes, this NASA video leads viewers across the icy reaches of Antarctica, the drifting expanse of polar sea ice, the shrinking cap around the North pole, and more. The Tour conveys the interconnectedness of the crysophere.


Podcast: Arctic Climate Expedition (Cycle A)
Audio podcast from National Public Radio: Science Friday, June 2, 2006 - Discussion with Kathryn Moran, University of Rhode Island and Andrew C. Revkin, Environmental Reporter, The New York Times, about new data obtained from an Arctic drilling expedition indicating that about 49 million years ago, the Arctic was green, with fresh surface water and ferns covering the water -- at least during the summer months. (To listen to podcast - select format for the Archived Audio in upper right hand corner of the website - RealAudio, Windows Media, or mp3 download). 30 minutes.


The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth (Cycle A)
In his 2006 book, Tim Flannery looks at the connection between climate change and global warming. The book's website includes Learning Resources that follow the five parts of "We are The Weather Makers" (the young adult version of "The Weather Makers") and include: The Atmosphere, One in Ten Thousand, The Science of Prediction, People in Greenhouses, and The Solution. Flannery talks to Melbourne secondary school students about global warming and what can be done about it. Click here to watch this 20 minute talk.
Atlantic Monthly Press


UT Researcher Finds Global Warming Increases Species Extinctions Worldwide (Cycle A)
Press release from the University of Texas, Austin.


Canada's Arctic Loses Most of Ice Shelf (Cycle B)
An ice shelf that formed thousands of years ago has greatly receded during the summer of 2011.


Impact of Climate Warming on Polar Ice Sheets Confirmed (Cycle B)
NASA Feature Article from 03/08/06.


NASA ICESat Program (Cycle B)
Website for NASA's ICE, cloud, and land elevation Satellite (ICESat).


National Snow and Ice Data Center (Cycle B)
Includes information on the latest polar research and news, data sources, and resources for educators.


Vanishing Ice (Cycle B)
May 7, 2003, article in NASA's Earth Observatory.


Institute for Learning Technologies (ILT) Papers (Cycle C)
See the readings on pedagogy and technology.


NASA has developed microsets of Earth science data for K-12 education, which can be used with existing curriculum and enable students to practice math skills using real measurements of Earth system variables and processes.

The microsets are created using data from NASA Earth science satellite missions and provide information on the atmosphere, ocean and land surface. New data types continue to be added to the collection. Data is available online along with K-12 lesson plans, computer tools and an Earth science glossary.

Use the Live Access Server to create your own microsets of NASA data. The LAS contains over 128 parameters in atmospheric and Earth science from five NASA scientific projects Click here for an overview of the parameters and time period available.


NSF: Glaciers and Ice Caps to Dominate Sea Level Rise Through 21st Century (Cycle C)
NSF Press Release 07-083, July 19, 2007 - Ice loss from glaciers and ice will cause a greater rise in sea level sooner than expected according to research conducted at the University of Colorado, Boulder.


Webcast: Who Left the Freezer Door Open? What the Poles Are Telling Us About Climate Change (Cycle C)
NASA scientist Robert A. Bindschadler discusses the latest space-based observations on the warming of the polar regions in this January 24, 2007 lecture at the Library of Congress.

Bindschadler explores the latest thinking on what's happening with the ice sheets at both poles, including the recent acceleration of ice loss throughout much of coastal Greenland and the sudden disintegration of ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula. Large-scale environmental changes are underway. What is actually taking place, and what's next? 51 minutes.


Sample Investigations:


Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2: A Record of Climate Change (Cycle A)
In 1993 the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 finished drilling through the Greenland Ice Sheet from the top to the ground bottom below the glacier. This ice core drilling project was directed by the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. The recovered ice core record enabled scientists to piece together the most detailed record of Earth's climate for the last 110,000 years and some answers to the puzzle of how temperature, atmospheric gases, and other atmospheric particles interact to create climate.

As teachers and students work through the GISP2 Climate Card activity, students will learn about the GISP2 program and why ice coring is such an important aspect of understanding ancient climate and climate change. Students will also learn how the recovered ice core record enabled scientists to piece together a detailed record of Earth's climate and provide some answers to the puzzle of how temperature, atmospheric gases, other atmospheric particles, and insolation (exposure to solar radiation) interact to create climate. Read this article in NSTA's The Science Teacher (PDF) to learn more about the activity.
Difficulty: beginner


My NASA Data: Studying Snow and Ice Changes (Cycle A)
Students observe changes in snow and ice cover on the Earth over a ten-year period (1994 to 2004), come to conclusions about those changes and practice using some of the data analysis tools available at My NASA Data. For grades 9-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


The Arctic and Antarctic Circles (Cycle A)
Students explore the ends of the Earth "the Poles" to compare and contrast each region. Grades 6-8.
Difficulty: intermediate


My NASA Data: Snow Cover by Latitude (Cycle B)
Using data sets from MY NASA DATA students will create graphs comparing the amount (percentage) of snow cover along selected latitudes by date. For grades 6-8.
Difficulty: intermediate


Sea Level - The Highs and Lows Create the Flows (Cycle B)
Students determine the direction and speed of surface ocean currents. The activities in this educator's guide are related to NASA's Earth science research. (NOTE: The activities were originally developed to supplement the "NASA Earth Science Enterprise CD-ROM" which is now out of print.) For grades 5-12.
Difficulty: intermediate


Wither Arctic Sea Ice? (Cycle B)
Data: Sea Ice Images
Tools: ImageJ, Spreadsheet application
Download images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and animate them to see how sea ice in the Arctic has changed over the last 30 years. Use image processing software to measure the ice extent during November of each year. Import the measurements into a spreadsheet application to produce a graph, and compare them to air temperatures in the region.

Time Needed: five to seven 45 minute periods.
Difficulty: beginner


MY NASA DATA: Comparison of Snow Cover on Various Continents (Cycle C)
Students will use the Live Access Server (LAS) to form maps and a numerical text file of snow cover for each continent on a particular date. They will analyze the data for each map and corresponding text file to determine an estimate of snow cover for each continent. For grades 4-8.
Difficulty: intermediate


Polar Regions: Arctic Adaptations and Global Impacts (Cycle C)
This lesson is one in a series exploring the history, biology, and ecology of the National Marine Sanctuaries. It was developed for National Geographic's Oceans for Life program, in collaboration with and with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For grades 6-8.
Difficulty: intermediate




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Evidence, models, and explanation
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Structure of the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural hazards
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
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