Instructor Materials: Overview of Understanding Our Changing Climate: The Data behind Melting Ice and Changing Sea Level module
1. Analyze geodetic data to assess ice-sheet changes and the causes of observed sea level, and make predictions of future sea-level rise.
2. Assess the societal and economic consequences of observed and projected sea-level changes on regions most vulnerable to sea-level rise.
The Unit 5 report is the summative assessment for the module. Students apply their knowledge of temperature changes, sea-level altimetry, InSAR, GRACE, GPS, and societal vulnerability from the first four units of this module to make a report on sea-level and climate change for a relevant stakeholder group. Learn more about assessing student learning in this module.
The module covers material sequentially, but the units can also be taught as stand-alone lessons. For instructors who do not wish to use the module in its entirety, suggested pairings are included in the "Context for Use" section on each unit's page.
How are rising sea levels already influencing different regions? This unit offers case study examples for a coastal developing country (Bangladesh), a major coastal urban area (southern California), and an island nation (Maldives). What are the anticipated consequences of additional sea-level rise this century in these different places? This introduction to the module is designed to prompt student consideration of the economic and social impacts of sea-level change. As a class, students conduct a stakeholder analysis for one or more of the case study regions in order to better understand how different segments of a society affect and will be affected by sea-level change.
What is the contribution of seawater thermal expansion to recent sea-level rise? In this unit, students create time-series graphs of global averaged sea surface temperature anomaly (SSTA) data spanning 1880 to 2017 and conduct linear trend analysis to assess SST change during this period. Based on the calculated SST change, students calculate how much sea-level rise occurred from 1993 to 2015 due to thermal expansion of the oceans. Students compare their thermal expansion–calculated sea-level rise results to observed sea-level rise from radar altimetry and assess how much sea-level rise is attributable to thermal expansion.
What is the contribution of melting ice sheets compared to other sources of sea-level rise? How much is sea level projected to increase during the twenty-first century? In this unit students will use Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) ice-mass loss time series from Greenland and Antarctica to calculate sea-level rise due to the addition of freshwater inputs from melting ice sheets, and use Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) ice-velocity data to extrapolate which regions of the ice sheets are losing the greatest mass. Sea-level rise from melting ice sheets is then contrasted to the other dominant causes of sea-level rise, including thermal expansion, melting glaciers, and changes in land water storage. Lastly, students will extrapolate how much sea-level rise will occur by 2100 based on recent observed rates of sea-level rise, and compare these values to sea-level rise projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This unit shows how GPS records of bedrock surface elevation can be used to monitor snow and ice loading/unloading on decadal and annual time scales. Students calculate secular trends in the GPS time series and then use the original and detrended records to identify sites that exhibit similar behavior. Students gain experience with the challenges and benefits of using bedrock geodetic data to study snow- and ice-mass changes. They also consider the magnitude and timing of the elastic component of vertical change compared to that associated with postglacial rebound (viscoelastic response).
Sea-level rise due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets and ocean thermal expansion has significant societal and economic consequences. In this final unit, students prepare a summary of the impacts of sea level for relevant stakeholders. Students will integrate the stakeholder analysis in Unit 1 with the geodetic data (radar satellite altimetry, GRACE [Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment], InSAR, and GPS) of ice-mass loss and sea-level rise from Units 2–4 in their analysis.
Making the Module Work
To adapt all or part of the module for your classroom you will also want to read through