EarthLabs for Educators > Climate and the Cryosphere > Lab 3: Land Ice

Lab 3: Land Ice

The lab activity described here was developed by Erin Bardar of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

In the first part of this lab, students will learn about how glaciers form and the different processes that contribute to glacial mass balance by using an online interactive to explore how glaciers provide scientists with evidence for climate change. In Part B, they will learn about how & why glaciers move. In Part C, students will make a model of a glacier out of a putty-like substance called gak and conduct a hands-on experiment to explore glacial movement.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • describe how scientists use glacial mass balance to look for changes in climate
  • describe how glaciers move and shape Earth's surface
  • create a model of glacial movement using gak/flubber
  • describe how we know what we know about glacier dynamics
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Overview and Teaching Materials

Detailed overview of what students will do in each lab activity, how long it will take, and what materials are required to complete the lab.

In Part A: Students begin by reading this excerpt about land ice (Acrobat (PDF) 305kB Jul2 11) from the NSIDC page All About the Cryosphere. They then explore glacial accumulation and ablation processes using an online interactive produced by the University of Kentucky that shows them how scientists are able to determine whether a glacier is growing or shrinking and whether changes in the glacier's mass balance are related to climate change.
Time estimate: 25-50 minutes

In Part B: Students read a short background essay and watch the NOVA Science NOW video Fastest Glacier (running time approximately 5 minutes). They then do a simple experiment that demonstrates how a layer of melted water acts as a lubricant that speeds up glacial movement. This experiment can also be done by teacher as a demonstration at the front of the class. As a class, discuss the content of the video and how it relates to the experiment/demonstration.

Materials:

  • Small wooden block
  • ice cube

Encourage interested students to explore more about how scientists measure the speed of glaciers using the link in the How Do We Know What We Know? section. Time estimate: 50-75 minutes

In Part C: Students make a model glacier out of homemade silly putty, sometimes called goo, gak, or flubber. You will need the following materials for each group of students:

  • Borax powder
  • water (cold/room temperature, warm, & hot)
  • white glue
  • 2 mixing bowls
  • popsicle sticks, for stirring
  • food coloring
  • rubber gloves
  • airtight container or ziplock bag
  • chute made from PVC Pipe or cookie sheet (Also, the suggestion to use a short piece of plastic rain gutter for the chute is one that came from teachers. An 8-foot or 10-foot section of rain gutter is very inexpensive and easy to cut up into 2-foot lengths for students just with a good pair of scissors. And for a slow-moving glacier, a 2-foot section would be plenty long.)
  • books to prop up chute
  • dry erase marker
  • ruler
  • timer
  • plastic drinking straw
  • 5 ml water

If you'd like to have students compare the effects of different glacier flow rates, have them play around with the proportions of Borax and water in their gak recipe. Here are two tested recipes:

Recipe 1 (faster-moving):

  • 1 tsp Borax powder
  • 1 & 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup white glue

To make the gak:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine 3/4 cup warm water and 1 cup glue. Stir until well mixed.
  2. In a second mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup warm water and 1 tsp of Borax powder and stir until the powder is fully dissolved.
  3. Combine the contents of the two mixing bowls, and stir until a glob forms.
  4. Put half of the glob back into the first mixing bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring.
  5. Use your hands to knead the mixture in each bowl until it is well mixed (approx. 2-3 minutes). Wear rubber gloves to prevent staining your hands with the food coloring.
  6. Break off pieces of the white gak and pieces of the colored gak. Lay them out in strips of alternating color. Smush the strips together to reform a single striped glob of gak.

Recipe 2 (slower-moving):

  • 2 tsp Borax powder
  • 4 oz. hot water
  • 2 oz. cold or room temperature water
  • 1 cup white glue

To make the gak:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the glue & 2 oz cold/room temperature water. Stir until well mixed.
  2. In a second mixing bowl, dissolve borax in hot water & slowly add it to glue mixtureworking quickly, as the mixture will thicken.
  3. Put half of the glob back into the first mixing bowl. Add a few drops of food coloring.
  4. Use your hands to knead the mixture in each bowl until it is well mixed (approx. 2-3 minutes). Wear rubber gloves to prevent staining your hands with the food coloring.
  5. Break off pieces of the white gak and pieces of the colored gak. Lay them out in strips of alternating color. Smush the strips together to reform a single striped glob of gak.
Time estimate: 50-75 minutes

Printable Materials

Download and print files needed for each lab activity, including images, data tables, and Stop and Think questions.

Right-click (Win) or control-click (Mac) the linked text below and choose File > Save As... to save files to your computer.
  • PDF of excerpt about land ice (Acrobat (PDF) 305kB Jul2 11) from the NSIDC page "All About the Cryosphere"
  • Background Essay: Fastest Glacier (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB Jul3 11)
  • Stop and Think Questions (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 38kB Aug28 15) and Word (Microsoft Word 31kB Aug28 15)
  • Suggested Answers


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    to Stop and Think Questions

Teaching Notes and Tips

General recommendations for classroom implementation as well as guidelines and facilitation tips for leading class discussions.

General Recommendations:
  • Read through the lab and teacher resources BEFORE implementing with your students.
  • Print out any paper-based materials before starting the lab.
  • Have students keep a journal or notebook to record all of their notes, questions, and findings.

In Part A: Consider assigning reading as homework.

In Part B: Consider projecting the video for students to watch together as a class. Be prepared to facilitate a discussion and give a simple demonstration of how meltwater beneath a glacier makes the glacier flow faster. Slide a wooden block across a table or desk. Then slide an ice cube across the same surface. Have students discuss how each object behaved. Which object slid more easily? Now try sliding the wooden block across a wet surface. Discuss how the water acts as a lubricating layer between the block and the table just as it does between the Jakobshavn glacier and the underlying land.

Consider assigning "Background Essay: Fastest Glacier" reading as homework.

Purpose of the discussion: This discussion will help solidify what students learned about glacier movement in the Fastest Glacier video and the wooden block experiment.

Facilitation Tips: Write the primary discussion questions on the board and give students three minutes to share ideas in pairs or to write in their notebooks before starting the full class discussion.

Primary discussion questions:

  • Which object in the experiment slid more easily?
  • How does this experiment mimic what's happening with the Jakobshavn glacier?

Wrap Up: Before moving on, make sure students see the connections between the lubricating layer of water and the speed of the glacier (and the wooden block). Although scientists are still trying to determine the exact cause for the Jakobshavn glacier's record speed, their observations indicate that warming temperature is the primary contributor. As this glacier surges toward the coast, large amounts of freshwater ice and water are being dumped into the ocean. As students learned in Lab 2, this could have serious consequences for ocean circulation. Studying the Jakobshavn glacier and other glaciers will help scientists better understand how climate and the cryosphere influence one another.

In Part C: If time is tight, consider making batches of gak before class. After the lab, place the gak in a ziplock bag and save it for future use or dispose of it in the trash.

Student Notebooks

Suggestions for how to use Student Notebooks for Lab 3.

  • Have students write down the learning objectives for Lab 3.
  • Have students record answers to all Stop and Think questions.
  • Have students record answers to all Discussion questions.
  • In Part B: Have students take notes as they read the Fastest Glacier background essay and watch the Fastest Glacier video.
  • In Part C: Have students take notes and record their results as they perform the gak glacier experiment.
  • Have students write down any questions they still have about the content covered in this lab.

Assessment

There are several options for assessment of student understanding of material introduced in this lab. Choose from the following list, or create your own assessments.

There are several options for assessment of student understanding of material introduced in this lab. Choose from the following list, or create your own assessments.

Assessment Options:

  1. Assess student understanding of topics addressed in this investigation by grading their written responses to the Stop and Think questions or by using Stop and Think questions as part of whole-class or small group discussions.
  2. Written Test for Lab 3


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    Test key


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    )

Science Standards

Lab 3 supports the following Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS):

Science and Engineering Practices
2. Developing and using models
4. Analyzing and interpreting data
7. Engaging in argument from evidence

Disciplinary Core Ideas
HS.ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes
HS.ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

Cross-Cutting Concepts
2. Cause and effect
4. Systems and system models
7. Stability and change

Examples of how students engage with the standards:


Go to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Additional Resources

Explore background information and content extensions related to Lab 3.

Background Information


Content Extension


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