Pedagogy in Action > Library > Teaching with Google Earth > Examples of Google Earth Activities > Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage

Glenn A. Richard, Mineral Physics Institute, Stony Brook University
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This activity has been selected for inclusion in the CLEAN collection.

This activity has been extensively reviewed for inclusion in the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network's collection of educational resources. For information the process and the collection, see http://cleanet.org/clean/about/selected_by_CLEAN.



This page first made public: Dec 1, 2008

This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Summary

Climate change is a prominent topic in the media, and its effects are expected to present major challenges for human society. Students need to become aware of the issues connected with this phenomenon.

In this exercise, undergraduate students use Google Earth and information from several web sites to investigate some of the consequences of climate change in polar regions, including the seasonal and longer-term changes in the extent of the ice cap at the North Pole, disintegration of ice shelves, opening of shipping routes, access to sources of fossil fuels, geopolitics, effects on polar bears, and possible secondary effects on climate in other regions due to changes in ocean currents.

Students learn to use satellite and aerial imagery, maps, graphs, and statistics to interpret trends accompanying changes in the Earth system.



Learning Goals

Context for Use

This exercise needs to be performed in a computer laboratory where students can work individually or in pairs. Google Earth and a web browser must be available on each workstation. The instructor should have enough prior knowledge of Google Earth to be able to troubleshoot common problems related to errors that students may make. The students should know how to use the Fly To tab in the Search pane, how to zoom in and out, and how to pan the view. They should know how to use the navigation controls and components of the toolbar. They will need to use the Ruler tool. The students must have access to accounts that enable them to visit off-campus web sites. The operating system should be configured to recognize kmz files, so that the browser offers to open them in Google Earth. Ideally, there should be an instructor station connected to a projector so that guidance can be provided to the class as a group. In addition to the primary instructor, a teaching assistant should be available to help students troubleshoot problems while the instructor is engaged at the instructor station.

The activity is best suited for a course that focuses on energy, climate, or global concerns, and which provides students with understanding of interrelationships between components of the Earth system, including a perspective on the role of human activity in bringing about global change, and the effects of these changes on human society.

Prior to this activity, students should be provided with a basic understanding of recent trends in climate change.

This exercise was originally used in an undergraduate course at Stony Brook University - GEO 311: Geoscience and Global Concerns. Enrollment in the course was a mixture of geoscience and non-geoscience majors.

Fundamental Information about Using Google Earth

The Student User Guide is designed to provide information on using Google Earth to educators and students. In addition, the following links to Google's documentation can offer guidance for specific skills needed for this exercise:

The Google Earth Student User Guide
Google Earth Tip Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 440kB Nov20 08)
Google Earth User Guide
Google Earth User Guide: Getting Started
Google Earth User Guide: Getting to Know Google Earth
Google Earth User Guide: Navigating in Google Earth
Google Earth User Guide: Finding Places and Getting Directions
Google Earth User Guide: Using Layers
Google Earth User Guide: Measuring Distances and Areas
NSIDC: Time Series in Google Earth

Description and Teaching Materials


Each student needs to be provided with a printed copy of the following handout in (Word .doc):
Word (Microsoft Word 113kB Oct5 11) or pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 56kB Oct5 11) format. The Word version of the document can easily be modified in order to customize the activity for varied class venues, or to adjust its content to conform to changing global conditions. Both the Word and pdf versions of the handout contain links to the data the the students need in order to perform the activity, therefore they could be made available electronically for use along with the paper copies in order to make data access convenient for the students. The students will also need paper copies to fill out and hand in.

Also hand out the one-page Google Earth Tip Sheet (.pdf) as a quick reference for the students.
Google Earth Tip Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 440kB Nov20 08)

Students should be seated at computer workstations individually or in pairs. They should be asked to complete the exercise according to the instructions on the handout by writing their answers in the space provided underneath each question. It may be helpful to provide them with some basic instruction on using Google Earth.

In GEO 311: Geoscience and Global Concerns, we engaged the students periodically in informal discussion during the exercise, and had them hand it in at the end of the session for grading.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Undergraduate students typically find Google Earth intuitive and easy to use concerning navigation and viewing of mapped data. They may initially need some help learning how expand and collapse listing of data in the Places pane. Some people find saving Google Earth data confusing, however that skill is not needed for this exercise. Students should be made aware of online resources that provide information on using Google Earth.
Google Earth with data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, depicting the extent of sea ice in the Arctic in September, 2008. Note the time slider at the top of the Google Earth 3D Viewer, set to that date.



Time needed for this exercise may vary depending upon the amount of previous experience students have had using Google Earth and the amount of time devoted to informal discussion during the exercise. Typically, 80 minutes should be sufficient for completion, but the exercise can be used effectively even if it is apportioned into multiple class sessions.

Some of the students may not have a complete enough knowledge about world geography to complete the questions about shipping routes without assistance. For example, previous class sessions with this exercise have demonstrated that not all students are aware of the locations of the Suez and Panama Canals. Therefore, this exercise and others that employ Google Earth and other mapping tools should be used as an opportunity for students to gain new understanding and knowledge of world geography.

It is best to associate the exercise with some discussion in order to stimulate ideas among the students about complex interrelationships between components of the Earth system.

Assessment

Assessment can consist of grading the answers that students hand in on their instruction sheets. Some of the questions, such as the ones that involve measuring distances, ask for quantitative responses, but allowance should be made some variation in the paths that students follow as they use the Ruler tool to make the measurements. However, for the final question, students are asked for their opinions, therefore grading it can be quite subjective. The degree and manner of students' participation in accompanying discussions can also reveal what they have learned from the activity. Concepts presented in the activity can also form the basis of exam questions.

Since much of this exercise calls for qualitative judgments on the part of students, which may reasonably be expected to vary, grading should be somewhat lenient, in order to enable the students to feel comfortable being creative.

References and Resources

Resources Required for this Exercise

Each student needs to be provided with a printed copy of the handout in Northwest Passage in Word (Microsoft Word 113kB Oct5 11) or pdf (Acrobat (PDF) 56kB Oct5 11) format.

Also hand out the one-page Google Earth Tip Sheet (.pdf)
Google Earth Tip Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 440kB Nov20 08)

Also provide them with a link to the Google Earth Student User Guide.

Links to information Needed for this Exercise

Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) Data on Virtual Globes: Google Earth (more info)
NASA: 2008 Arctic Sea Ice from AMSR-E
Telegraph: Arctic becomes an island as ice melts
NPR: In The Arctic Race, The U.S. Lags Behind
NPR: The Arctic's Diminishing Sea Ice
BBC: Diary: Taking the Northwest Passage
NPR: Russia Pushes To Claim Arctic As Its Own
BBC: Huge Arctic fire hints at new climate cue
Reuters: Arctic ice second-lowest ever; polar bears affected
CBS News: Alaska will sue over polar bears
Wikimedia Commons: Image:Polar Bear Habitat.png
Science @ NASA: A Chilling Possibility (more info)
Energy on the Map

Fundamental Information about Using Google Earth

The Google Earth Student User Guide
Google Earth Tip Sheet (Acrobat (PDF) 440kB Nov20 08)
Google Earth User Guide
Google Earth User Guide: Getting Started
Google earth User Guide: Getting to Know Google Earth
Google Earth User Guide: Navigating in Google Earth
Google Earth User Guide: Finding Places and Getting Directions
Google Earth User Guide: Using Layers
Google Earth User Guide: Measuring Distances and Areas
NSIDC: Time Series in Google Earth

Additional Related Information

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
NSIDC: Arctic Sea Ice News Fall 2007
NSIDC: Sea Ice News and Analysis
NASA: Global Climate Change - Vital Signs of the Planet
Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmosphereic Studies: The Gulf Stream
Wikipedia: Thermohaline circulation
Technische Universiteit Delft: Current velocities of the Gulf Stream
Wikipedia: Shutdown of thermohaline circulation
New Scientist: Failing ocean current raises fears of mini ice age
Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory: Climate Impact of Quadrupling Atmospheric CO2
Telegraph.co.uk: Arctic becomes an island as ice melts
The Middlebury Community Network: Editorial: The Great Global Warming Hoax?
Wikimedia Commons: Image:Polar Bear Habitat.png
World Wildlife Fund: Polar bear subpopulations around the Arctic
EarthTrends: Melting Arctic Sea Ice Threatens Polar Bears
Los Angeles Times: Polar bear is listed as threatened species
BBC: Diary: Taking the Northwest Passage
NPR: Arctic Ice Hits Near-Record Low, Threatening Wildlife
BBC: Arctic sea routes open as ice melts
USGS: Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle
Climate Progress: After North Sea Oil Spill, Shell Prepares to Drill in Arctic Where There is 'No Infrastructure' for Clean-Up
Science Daily: Greenland Glacier Melting Faster Than Expected
NPR: In The Arctic Race, The U.S. Lags Behind
NPR: The Arctic's Diminishing Sea Ice
NPR: Russia Pushes To Claim Arctic As Its Own
BBC: Huge Arctic fire hints at new climate cue
BBC: Russia plans Arctic army brigades
BBC: Arctic summit in Moscow hears rival claims

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