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  • Tips & Modifications


    If you do not have time or resources to conduct this investigation in class, you may choose to show the video "Why Melting Glaciers Matter to Coasts" to students instead. You can still use the prediction component of the activity by stopping the video before the ice begins melting, asking for predictions, and then leading the discussion after the end of the video.


    Preview the “Why melting glaciers matter to the coasts” video yourself to get a visual representation of the finished products for this activity.

    1.  Introduce the concepts of global warming and climate change

    Introduce students to the terms “global warming” and “climate change.” Although this activity focuses on one effect of global warming, it’s important for students to understand the difference between these two terms and that they should not be used interchangeably.


    Write the terms “global warming” and “climate change” on the board. Ask for volunteers to define the two terms. Ask:

      • Do you think the terms mean the same thing?
      • If not, how are they different?

    Say to students: Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of Earth's air and oceans and that climate change is a long-term change in the Earth's climate, or of a region on Earth. Global warming refers to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect—like melting glaciers, heavier rainstorms, or more frequent drought. (Source: “What’s the difference between global warming and climate change?”, NOAA,


    Show students the “Global warming cartoon” and ask them to describe how the cartoon illustrates what they have learned about global warming and climate change.


    2.   Delve deeper into the causes and effects of climate change (optional)

    (NOTE: Use this step if your students have not studied the causes and effects of climate change. If you have already covered these topics, you might choose to move on to the next step.)


    Have students read the following resources that define climate change—causes and effects.


    Divide students into small groups and have each group work together to complete a four-column chart with the headings Natural Causes, Human Causes, Effects, and Solutions. Ask students to include as many items as possible in each column. When finished, ask the groups to share a summary of their charts and discussions.


    3.   Discuss the causes of sea level rise

    Remind students that the two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans (since water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice (such as glaciers) due to increased melting.


    Tell students that "... records and research show that sea level has been steadily rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900. Since 1992, new methods of satellite altimetry (the measurement of elevation or altitude) indicate a rate of rise of 0.12 inches per year. This is a significantly larger rate than the sea level rise averaged over the last several thousand years."

    (Source: “Is Sea Level Rising?”, NOAA)


    Ask: Which type of melting will cause a greater increase in sea level? Have each student make a prediction.


    4.   Investigate predictions on causes of sea level rise

    Tell students that they are going to see a demonstration that illustrates how melting ice impacts sea levels and test their predictions.


    Lead students in conducting the following activity that demonstrates a cause of sea level rise.



    • Use the clay to build “land” on one half of each tub. Form the clay to represent land rising out of the ocean. Label one tub “Ice on Land” and the other “Floating Ice.”
    • Place stick pins close to the edge of each land mass.
    • Place four ice cubes on top of the land mass in one tub and on the bottom of the other tub.
    • Pour water into the Floating Ice tub until the ice floats. Be sure to add enough water so the ice is floating, not resting on the bottom.
    • Pour water into the Ice on Land tub with the ice resting on the clay (be careful not to disturb the ice cubes) until the water levels in the two containers are equal.
    • Set the tubs side by side
    • Wait for the ice to melt. Take photos of the changes in the level of the water in the tubs or note changes in the levels in a chart.
    • When all the ice has melted mark the new water level on each tub. Note the change(s).


    5.   Discuss students’ observations and learning

    Lead students in a discussion using the following or similar questions:

      • In which situation did the water level rise more?  (“Ice on Land” container)
      • How do the results compare with your predictions?
      • Why do you think this happened? (When ice cubes sitting on the modeling clay melt, the water runs off and adds to the volume of water in the “ocean.” Conversely, floating ice is already taking up space in the water—displacing a mass of water that is equivalent to the mass of the ice. When the ice melts, the water fills that existing space. Make sure students don't confuse this with rising sea level that results from water expanding as it warms. This experiment only deals with the result of melting land ice.)


    To wrap up the activity, show students the “Why Melting Glaciers Matter to Coasts” video and discuss how rising sea level impacts coasts around the world.


    Alternative Assessment

    Informal assessment options might include:

    • Have students create a presentation on the causes and effects of climate change or global warming, including suggestions for solutions.
    • Have students create a short video, drawing, cartoon, or other visual media artifact illustrating the impact of sea level rise.
    • Have students conduct the demonstration for younger students, explaining the concepts in terms appropriate for the age group.

    Extending the Learning

    Use the Assessment ideas to extend the learning.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

  • Science
    • Earth science
    • Ecology
    • General science