GETSI Teaching Materials >Ice and Sea Level Changes > Unit 5: Regional sea level changes--a tale of two cities
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This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Unit 5: Regional Sea Level Changes--A Tale of Two Cities


Summary

Is sea level change globally uniform? How do sea level changes have the potential to influence major metropolitan areas during the next century? How should these changes be addressed, and who should be responsible for taking action? In this unit, the conclusion to the Ice Mass and Sea Level Change module, students explore the potential impacts of sea level change on the economy, infrastructure, and residents of Southern California and New York City. Students also consider how changes in these two regions will have a widespread influence on other US cities, even for landlocked communities.

Learning Goals

Unit 5 Learning Outcomes

  • Students will characterize regional sea level trend variations using tide gauge data.
  • Students will identify potential economic, infrastructure, and residential impacts of sea level rise on Southern California and New York City.
  • Students will formulate opinions on the viability of potential adaptations to sea level rise and justify these opinions based on sea level rise scenarios for New York City and Southern California.

Unit 5 Teaching Objectives

  • Cognitive: Promote an understanding of causes and variability of regional sea level trends.
  • Behavioral: Establish an environment for students to formulate opinions on potential responses to sea level rise, share their opinions with their peers, and justify their opinions using evidence.
  • Affective:
    • Encourage reflection about the role of uncertainty in stakeholders' planning of adaptations to sea level change.
    • Encourage reflection about the costs, benefits, and challenges of community decisions about response to sea level change.
    • Encourage reflection about the potential outcomes of sea level change on an area's economy, infrastructure, and residents.

Context for Use

The content in Unit 5 is appropriate for introductory geology, oceanography, meteorology, and other geoscience courses; sophomore-level courses in which geodesy and/or climate studies are being introduced; or non-geoscience courses where climate studies and/or the nature and methods of science are being investigated. Unit 5 activities can easily be adapted to serve small or large-enrollment classes and can be executed in lecture and lab settings as a series of interactive lecture activities, a lengthier in-class activity, or as part of a ~two-week investigation of the use of geodesy to understand cryosphere and sea level changes using the entire Ice Mass and Sea Level Change module. In the Ice Mass and Sea Level Change module, this unit follows Unit 4: An uplifting story of sea level change on the contributions of short-term, post-glacial rebound and melting to sea level change. If the entire two-week module will not be utilized, we recommend pairing Unit 5 with Unit 1: Rising concerns over rising sea levels and Unit 2: Temperature--a global trendsetter to give students an opportunity to make calculations about global sea level changes and think about impacts of sea level change on a developing country before they consider the potential impacts of sea level change on an industrialized nation.

Description and Teaching Materials

Part 1:

In Unit 4, students learned that in the case of East Greenland, isostatic uplift rates are currently greater than sea level rise in the region. It is imperative that students understand that sea level change is not globally uniform with respect to the type of sea level change (rise or drop) or the magnitude of sea level change. To that end, students begin Unit 5 by completing a brief, written exercise using the NOAA Sea Level Trends viewer. As Internet access is useful, this could be done as a preparation exercise before coming to class. Alternatively, instructors could print hard copies of the map or project an image of the map and complete the exercise during class time. If this option is exercised, students will not be able to quantify the sea level changes for individual stations unless they have Internet access in the classroom.

Part 2:

Students are provided with information on the potential impacts of sea level rise on roads and railways; ports; coastal land area and associated infrastructure; and power plants and waste disposal facilities in New York City and Southern California, as well as several examples of strategies that are already being taken by other communities within and outside of the United States to adapt to sea level rise. A series of questions are posed about New York City and Southern California's potential responses to sea level rise, and students respond to the questions based on evidence from their reading. Depending on time constraints and desired format of the activity, instructors may choose to assign different students with different stakeholder roles before they consider and respond to the questions. Potential stakeholder roles (modified from Introduction to Stakeholder Participation, NOAA Coastal Services Center) are described below.

There are several ways to implement Unit 5, including think-pair-share; discussions in small, stationary groups; and work in small or mobile groups in the context of a gallery walk. Alternatively, instructors could forgo the discussion questions, provide students with the readings for Southern California and New York City, and go directly to the wall walk.

Part 3:

Once students have completed the Unit 5 discussion, we suggest a whole-group wall walk for purposes of a concluding discussion and formative assessment. A wall walk is an interactive format for discussions of controversial topics. In a wall walk, four signs are placed in different parts of the classroom—strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree. A statement about response to sea level change is projected for everyone to read, and each student moves to the sign that best expresses his/her opinion about the topic. Selected students at each sign are asked to provide a justification for their opinion on the topic, and students have the opportunity to move fluidly between signs if they change their minds during the discussion. Suggested statements for the wall walk are listed below and provided in the Word document.

  • No additional construction should be allowed in coastal areas susceptible to sea level rise.
  • Mandatory flood insurance should be available to anyone with property in a coastal area susceptible to sea level rise.
  • Regardless of where you live or your income, everyone should be equally financially responsible for the consequences of sea level rise.
  • Coastal areas that will be destroyed by sea level rise should be abandoned, not fortified.
  • In coastal areas, the highest priority item should be saving individual homes (as opposed to saving other coastal infrastructure).
  • When developing a sea level rise response plan, leaders should plan for the worst-case scenario (i.e., the largest sea level rise predicted).
  • When developing a sea level rise response plan, leaders should be looking ahead 100 years in the future.
Unit 5: Wall walk (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 317kB Dec8 17)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Depending on the components of Unit 5 that are implemented in class and the teaching techniques employed, Unit 5 will require 1–2 hours of class time. Prior to classroom implementation, copies of the tide exercise and copies of the New York City, Southern California, and adaptation vignettes should be made for each student. Alternatively, instructors could assign these readings as a preparation exercise to decrease the in-class time required for Unit 5. Discussion questions and wall walk questions should also be available for classroom implementation. PowerPoint presentations should be downloaded. For additional teaching tips and descriptions of classroom implementation strategies, refer to the Instructor Stories page.

Assessment

Formative assessment:

Example #1: If instructors choose to implement part 2 as a gallery walk, there are several informal and formal methods that may be used to assess gallery walks available on the SERC website. Ultimately, students should be able to identify commonalities between sea level rise-related problems in New York City and Southern California, suggest potential adaptation strategies, and discuss the positive and negative consequences of implementing the adaptation strategies.

Example #2: The wall walk can be assessed by verbal report-outs and/or having students record their opinions and evidence to support their opinions.

Summative assessment questions:

Level-1 example:
Which of the following statements best describes modern sea level trends along the West Coast of the United States?
A. Sea level trends are uniform along the West Coast of the United States, with all stations experiencing sea level rises.
B. Sea level trends are uniform along the West Coast of the United States, with all stations experiencing sea level drops.
C. Sea level trends are not uniform along the West Coast of the United States. Most stations are experiencing rises in sea level.
D. Sea level trends are not uniform along the West Coast of the United States. Most stations are experiencing drops in sea level.


Level-2 example #1:
If sea level rise was once 200 m higher than today, why are we so concerned about a potential 1 m rise in sea level by 2100?

Level-2 example #2:
List and briefly describe two causes of land loss related to sea level change. Propose one strategy for adapting to the loss of coastal land and discuss the positive and negative aspects of this strategy.

Scoring: scoring rubric below assuming that this is an 8-point question.



Unit 5: Assessment Rubric (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 87kB Nov13 15)

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This module is part of a growing collection of classroom-tested materials developed by GETSI. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »