Teaching Notes

Example Output

Note: This chapter was retired in October 2018. The visualization tool (My World GIS) is no longer supported.

Example Output

My World GIS project map of Greenland with Ice Sheet and Glacier Velocity Data on the map.

A visualization of the Greenland Ice Sheet thickness and the regions of fastest glacial movement across the continent.

Grade Level

This chapter is appropriate for students in grades 7-14.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to:

  • use links from the project to view images of research life;
  • visualize how data is collected in harsh environments like Greenland;
  • use the pan and zoom tools to move around the map;
  • measure an increase in glacial melt extent;
  • use the selection tool to choose fastest moving area of glacier at 2000m contour;
  • build a data layer from a tabular data file; and
  • use analyze mode to complete subtraction of layers and fields to calculate net change.


This chapter offers the opportunity to make connections between an observable change in the cryosphere and its potential impact in the hydrosphere and atmosphere. As such, it provides a model for system-level exploration and inquiry, following the observed results of changes in one sphere to their consequence in other spheres.

Background Information

A large variety of background information for this chapter is available on the internet. Teachers may decide to read these articles ahead of class or may direct their students to review the information as homework. The following are just several of the many articles available online:

Greenland Melting - Feature Articles

Key Terms and Prerequisite Knowledge

Students who use this lesson will need to be familiar with the following key terms. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) hosts an excellent primer on glaciers (All About Glaciers) for students who are new to the cryosphere. Other important terms listed below can be can be found in the NSIDC Glacier Glossary.
  • Ice Sheet
  • Glacier
  • Melt Extent
  • Remote Sensing

Instructional Strategies

Introduce the mystery: What impacts has global warming had on the Greenland Ice Sheet?

As a whole class, begin with an open-ended discussion about the following questions and others you deem necessary to set the stage. Do not feel the need to answer all of the students questions at this point as these questions are meant to pique the interest of the students before the lesson. Adjust these questions based on the background knowledge and level of your students.

  • What is climate?
  • How and why do we study climate?
  • Why is there an ice cap in Greenland?
  • Has the ice cap always been there?
  • What might be the signs of the ice sheet/cap melting?
  • What are be some signs (fingerprints) of climate change?
  • What might be the signals of climate change in the ocean?

In order to engage students in the excitement about Greenland's changing ice sheet and the potential impacts, choose one or more of the introductory options listed below.

  • Show the video from NOVA, Science Now: Fastest Glacier or Scientific American Frontiers XV: Hot Planet - Cold Comfort. Both videos are available online and can be shared via a computer.
  • Alternatively, print and have students read a recent news article on Greenland melting. Several sources are listed in the Background Information and Other Resources sections, on this page.

Other Teaching Suggestions

Demonstrate how to open the My World project file. Allow students to work through the lesson at their own pace. They will discover the tools as they work though the lesson. Advanced students may be able to invent their own methods for solving the questions.

If you are using this project file with multiple students, either remind students not to save changes when they quit the program, or have them rename the file when they save, so that they do not overwrite the original project file.

Learning Contexts

This chapter engages students in the measurement and analysis of the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet. From this starting point students may decide to investigate the causes and/or consequences of this melting.

This lesson is well suited for students in AP Environmental Science or Earth Science classes. It can also be used as an introduction to remote sensing or glaciology.

Science Standards

The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter:

Grades 5-8

  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
    The use of tools and techniques, including mathematics, will be guided by the question asked and the investigations students design. The use of computers for the collection, summary, and display of evidence is part of this standard. Students should be able to access, gather, store, retrieve, and organize data, using hardware and software designed for these purposes.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
    Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment. Students should begin to state some explanations in terms of the relationship between two or more variables.
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
    With practice, students should become competent at communicating experimental methods, following instructions, describing observations, summarizing the results of other groups, and telling other students about investigations and explanations.
  • Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
    Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
  • Women and men of various social and ethnic backgroundsand with diverse interests, talents, qualities, and motivationsengage in the activities of science, engineering, and related fields such as the health professions.
    Some scientists work in teams, and some work alone, but all communicate extensively with others.

Grades 9-12

  • Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
    Student inquiries should culminate in formulating an explanation or model. Models should be physical, conceptual, and mathematical. In the process of answering the questions, the students should engage in discussions and arguments that result in the revision of their explanations. These discussions should be based on scientific knowledge, the use of logic, and evidence from their investigation.
  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
    A variety of technologies, such as hand tools, measuring instruments, and calculators, should be an integral component of scientific investigations. The use of computers for the collection, analysis, and display of data is also a part of this standard. Mathematics plays an essential role in all aspects of an inquiry. For example, measurement is used for posing questions, formulas are used for developing explanations, and charts and graphs are used for communicating results.
  • Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data.
    New techniques and tools provide new evidence to guide inquiry and new methods to gather data, thereby contributing to the advance of science. The accuracy and precision of the data, and therefore the quality of the exploration, depends on the technology used.

Geography Standards

The following U.S. National Geography Standards are supported by this chapter:

  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
  • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface
  • The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface
  • How human actions modify the physical environment

Other Standards

The following National Technology Foundation Standards are supported by this chapter:

  • Technology productivity tools. Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
  • Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools. Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.

Time Required

Three to five 45-minute periods will be needed to fully complete the case study and all exercises. Times will vary depending on prior knowledge and skills.

  • Case Study: Introduction and Online Video clips - 45 minutes
  • Part 1: Download and Install My World GIS and Greenland Melt Project files (data) - 30 minutes
  • Part 2: Science on the Ice - 45 minutes
  • Part 3: Observing Ice Sheet Melt Extents - 40 minutes
  • Part 4: Glaciers on the Go - 40 minutes

Other Resources

Web Links

Background Articles and Materials for Teachers:

Books and Articles

Alley, R. B. (2002). The Two Mile Ice Time Machine. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Angier, J. (2005). Hot Planet - Cold Comfort. On Scientific American Frontiers [VHS]: PBS.

Kolbert, E, (2005) The Climate of Man - Part I, New Yorker Magazine.

A link to the full text of the New Yorker article (above) is on the Steffen Research website

Kolbert, E. (2006). Field Notes from a Catastrophe. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Parkinson, C. L. & Comiso, J. C. (2004). Tracking the Changing Arctic. Physics Today, Retrieved August 2004, http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-57/iss-8/p38.html

Steffen, K. & Huff, R. (2002). Greenland Maximum Melt Extent: a record maximum melt extent on the Greenland ice sheet in 2002. Retrieved March 2005, from http://cires1.colorado.edu/science/groups/steffen/greenland/melt2002/

Steffen, K., Huff R., & Nuemann, G. (2004). The melt anomaly of 2002 on the Greenland ice sheet from active and passive microwave satellite observations. Geophysical Research Letters, 31.

R. Thomas, et al. (2000). Mass Balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet at High Elevations (Acrobat (PDF) 267kB Nov22 07),(in PDF) Science 289, 426

Teaching Resources

Handouts and additional materials for this lesson are listed below.

These guides can be downloaded to help with the use of the program: