Teaching Notes

Grade Level

The chapter is appropriate for students in grades 6 through 12.

Analysis Screen small Example Output
Image of Average Surface Temperature, Snow Cover, and Reflected Radiation, from NASA's Image Composite Explorer.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, users will be able to:

  • understand the role of snow in Earth's energy balance;
  • animate a set of NEO images with ImageJ;
  • select images for analysis in NEO;
  • configure and launch NEO's analysis tools;
  • plot a transect across a set of images; and
  • visualize the relationship between reflected shortwave radiation, snow cover, and land surface temperature.


One might ask, "Why study Reflected Shortwave Radiation, Snow Cover, and Land Surface Temperatures in the Arctic?" The response is that the changes in these key areas are dramatic and profound. Nowhere else on Earth are the consequences of climate change more visibly apparent and rapidly evolving than in the Arctic regions.

A team of more than 300 leading Arctic researchers, indigenous representatives, and other experts from fifteen nations completed a comprehensive report on the state of climate change in the Arctic region in 2004. The report, entitled the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA), distilled and synthesized available scientific information, traditional knowledge, and indigenous perceptions in order to examine how climate and ultraviolet radiation have changed in the Arctic, how they are projected to change in the future, and what the consequences of these changes will be for the Arctic and the world.

The authors of the overview document of the ACIA identified the following ten key findings:
(ACIA, Executive Report, pages 10 and 11)

  1. The Arctic climate is now warming rapidly and much larger changes are
  2. Arctic warming and its consequences have worldwide implications.
  3. Arctic vegetation zones are projected to shift, bringing wide-ranging impacts.
  4. Animal species' diversity, ranges, and distribution will change.
  5. Many coastal communities and facilities face increasing exposure to storms.
  6. Reduced sea ice is very likely to increase marine transport and access to resources.
  7. Thawing ground will disrupt transportation, buildings, and other infrastructure.
  8. Indigenous communities are facing major economic and cultural impacts.
  9. Elevated ultraviolet radiation levels will affect people, plants, and animals.
  10. Multiple influences interact to cause impacts to people and ecosystems.

Such findings, as well as the underlying scientific assessment, are helping to inform governments as they implement and consider future policies on global climate change. It remains imperative to continue monitoring climate parameters to investigate any future changes and trends.

Background Information

In this Earth Exploration Toolbook chapter, students explore and analyze several of the datasets that are presently of great interest to both climate scientists and native inhabitants of the Arctic Regions. The variables of interest are snow cover, reflected shortwave radiation, and land surface temperature. A good way to begin learning more about the interactions between these three variables is by reading the NASA Earth Observatory Feature Article: Climate and Earth's Energy Budget.

A second article from NASA's collection of Global maps Earth's net radiation, describes the balance of incoming and outgoing solar radiation and how this balance changes seasonally. The article includes an animation of net radiation maps from NASA NEO.

More information on the topics discussed in this chapter can be found at the links listed in the Other Resources section of this page and on the Case Study page.

Instructional Strategies

This chapter can easily be incorporated into a unit on climate and/ or climate change. It can be taught in any middle school or high school science or social science class. Students can work alone or in small groups.

The chapter has five parts. The time needed to complete the entire chapter is approximately 3 or 4 class periods. More time can be spent on the topic with hands-on activities or other content extensions.

Time Required

Case Study: 10 minutes 
Part 1: 30 minutes 
Part 2: 20 minutes 
Part 3: 30 minutes 
Part 4: 30 to 40 minutes 
Part 5: 30 minutes 

Learning Contexts

This chapter is appropriate for students in grades 6-12. It is useful for students in courses such as environmental science, Earth science, biology, or general science. Additionally, this chapter is appropriate for any course or after school program that has students study the causes and impacts of climate change. 

Science Standards

This chapter supports the following National Science Education Standards:

Grades 5 - 8

  • 8ASI1.3 Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
  • 8ASI1.4 Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • 8ASI1.7 Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
  • 8ASI2.4 Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
  • 8ASI2.5 Scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models and theories.
  • 8GHNS2.3 It is part of scientific inquiry to evaluate the results of scientific investigations, experiments, observations, theoretical models, and the explanations proposed by other scientists.

Grades 9 - 12

  • 12ASI1.3 Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • 12ASI1.4 Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
  • 12ASI1.6 Communicate and defend a scientific argument.
  • 12ASI2.3 Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data.
  • 12ASI2.5 Scientific explanation must adhere to criteria such as: a proposed explanation must be logically consistent; it must abide by the rules of evidence; it must be open to questions and possible modification; and it must be based on historical and current scientific knowledge.
  • 12CLS4.5 Human beings live within the world's ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption. Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems will be irreversibly affected.
  • 12FSPSP4.2 Materials from human societies affect both physical and chemical cycles of the earth.
  • 12GHNS2.2 Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria.

Other Resources

NSF Special Report - Predicting Seasonal WeatherExplore the relationship between Siberian snow cover and seasonal weather patterns in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Climate and Earth's Energy Budget: NASA Earth Observatory Feature ArticleUnderstand how Earth' climate is powered by the sun.

Global Outlook for Ice and Snow from the United Nations Environment Programme

Rutgers University Global Snow LabThis website features maps of snow extent from the satellite charts; includes maps and graphs of anomalies. 

Earth's Albedo and Global Warming Interactive Web Resource from NASA and the USGS. Access to this resource is limited to those who have registered with Teacher's Domain; registration is free.

Climate Change Information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 

What Factors Impact a Greenhouse?This Teacher Guide has an explanation of Albedo and a lab activity for students. This resource comes from Project Learn at University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR).

Earth's Albedo in Decline: NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day 

Albedo: The Encyclopedia of the Earth ArticleThis article includes graphics and tables explaining albedo.

Arctic Report CardThis page is updated annually with the latest research on changes in the Arctic.

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA)Click on the links on this page to download the full report including graphics. 

Trends in Northern Hemisphere Snow Cover