EarthLabs for Educators > Climate and the Cryosphere > Lab Overviews

Climate and the Cryosphere: Lab Overviews

1. Getting to Know the Cryosphere
In Part A of this lab, students will learn about the different components that make up the cryosphere and where they can be found on Earth. In Part B, they will be introduced to some of the ways climate and the cryosphere influence one another, as well as how and why scientists study changes in our planet's snow and ice. In Part C, students will learn about some of the ways that humans, plants, and animals are connected to and affected by the cryosphere.
Tools Needed: Internet browser, Media player plugin such as QuickTime


  • light source
  • 4 plastic containers (plastic shoe boxes work well)
  • snow or shaved ice
  • dirt or soil
  • gravel
  • sand
  • light meter or probe
  • printed image of Antarctic sea ice
  • two thermometers
  • ruler
  • Data Tables (Acrobat (PDF) 29kB Jul5 11)
  • graph paper or spreadsheet program such as Excel

2. Earth's Frozen Oceans
In Part A of this activity, students learn about how sea ice forms and influences ocean currents around the globe. In Part B, they explore how sea ice thickness changes over time. Finally, in Part C, students use NSIDC sea ice index data to explore how sea ice extent changes over the course of a year.
Tools Needed: Internet browser with Flash, Excel or other spreadsheet program, RealPlayer media player plugin, materials for density experiment
Part A:
  • 4 small, clear containers (e.g., 250 mL beakers)
  • masking tape
  • fresh (tap) water
  • salt water
  • food coloring
  • dropper


3. Land Ice
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.
Tools Needed: Materials for making gak glaciers

  • Borax powder
  • water (cold/room temperature, warm, and hot)
  • white glue
  • mixing bowls
  • popsicle sticks, for stirring
  • food coloring
  • rubber gloves
  • airtight container or ziplock bag
  • chute made from PVC Pipe, plastic rain gutter, or cookie sheet
  • books to prop up chute
  • dry erase marker
  • ruler
  • timer
  • plastic drinking straw
  • 5 ml water

4. Climate History & the Cryosphere
In the first part of this lab, students will learn about land ice and the processes and timescales involved in glaciation. In Part B, they will learn about how scientists use ice cores to study climate history. In Part C, students will use an online interactive to explore how Earth's temperature, glacial ice, coastlines, and sea level have changed over the last 450,000 years.
Tools Needed: Internet browser with Flash, Excel

5. Evidence of Recent Change
In this lab, students will explore evidence of recent change in the cryosphere. In Part A, they will use an online interactive to visually explore how six Alaskan glaciers have changed over the last hundred years. They will also use image processing software to measure how much area a glacier in the Himalayas has lost over time due to rising temperatures. In Part B, students will study recent trends in Arctic sea ice extent and volume. In Part C, they will explore the ice-albedo feedback effect and think about causal connections between climate and the cryosphere.
Tools Needed: Internet browser, ImageJ image processing software

6. Future of the Cryosphere
In this culminating activity, students will contemplate what the future might hold for climate and the cryosphere. In the first part of the lab, they will learn about what climate models predict Earth's climate will be like in the future. In Part B, they will consider potential changes in sea level that might be brought about by warming temperatures and melting ice.
Tools Needed: Internet browser with Flash, Materials for sea level experiment
  • large bowl
  • water
  • ice cubes
  • rock or block of wood
  • ruler
  • additional craft supplies

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