Unit 3: Glaciers, GPS, and Sea Level Rise
These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.
OverviewStudents analyze and interpret empirical data with mathematical techniques to identify seasonal and long-term vertical motion Earth's crust due to melting of large glaciers. They write a report of their analyses and create an argument about the importance of glaciers to society.
Science and Engineering Practices
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations. HS-P5.2:
Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking: Apply ratios, rates, percentages, and unit conversions in the context of complicated measurement problems involving quantities with derived or compound units (such as mg/mL, kg/m3, acre-feet, etc.). HS-P5.5:
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations: Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated. HS-P3.5:
Engaging in Argument from Evidence: Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence. HS-P7.5:
Engaging in Argument from Evidence: Construct, use, and/or present an oral and written argument or counter-arguments based on data and evidence. HS-P7.4:
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables. HS-P6.1:
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. HS-P6.2:
Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible. HS-P4.2:
Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution. HS-P4.1:
Cross Cutting Concepts
Stability and Change: Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable. HS-C7.1:
Stability and Change: Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible. HS-C7.2:
Patterns: Mathematical representations are needed to identify some patterns HS-C1.4:
Patterns: Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns. HS-C1.5:
Cause and effect: Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects. HS-C2.1:
Cause and effect: Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects. HS-C2.4:
Cause and effect: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. HS-C2.2:
Disciplinary Core Ideas
Earth Materials and Systems: Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes. HS-ESS2.A1:
Earth's Systems: Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes. HS-ESS2-5:
Earth's Systems: Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth's surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems. HS-ESS2-2:
This material was developed and reviewed through the GETSI curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:
- team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
- multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
- real in-class or field camp/course testing of materials in multiple courses with external review of student assessment data.
- multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the GETSI materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
- created or reviewed by content experts for accuracy of the science content.
This page first made public: May 28, 2019
GPS data can measure bedrock elevation change in response to the changing mass of glaciers. In this module, students will learn how to read GPS data to interpret how the mass of glaciers in Alaska and Greenland is changing, both annually and long-term. They will then apply the skills they developed and knowledge they gained to demonstrate their understanding of how their GPS data about glacial change has implications for sea level rise.
Unit 3 Learning Outcomes
- Students will observe, describe, analyze, interpret, and apply time-series GPS data related to bedrock motion near glaciers
- Students will explain how changing ice mass causes annual and decadal bedrock motion near glaciers as measured by GPS
- Students will draw on GPS data to make a societal recommendation relative to glacial change
Learning Outcomes for Unit 3 support Module Goals 1 and 2.
Earth Science Big Ideas
ESBI-1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet
ESBI-3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life
ESBI-4: Earth is continuously changing
ESBI-9: Humans significantly alter Earth
Climate Literacy Principles
CLP-4: Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes
CLP-5: Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling
CLP-6: Human activities are impacting the climate system
CLP-7: Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives. (links open in new windows)
Unit 3 Teaching Objectives
- Cognitive: Promote an understanding of the relationship between bedrock elevation and glacial size; provide examples of evidence of climate change through shrinking glaciers and their effects of society via sea level rise; provide students with a framework to understand a glacial budget and glacial flow
- Behavioral: Promote skills development in reading and interpreting bedrock GPS time-series data and understanding its relationship to changes in ice mass; provide a framework for students to approach data reading and interpretation to solve problems like a scientist; give students opportunities to convert units, identify trends, and calculate rates; develop students' ability to calculate range and understand what that means
- Affective: Encourage reflection about approaches to and difficulties with working with time-series GPS data
Context for Use
The content for Unit 3 is appropriate for introductory geology, oceanography, environmental science, 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 3 activities can easily be adapted to serve small- or large-enrollment classes. They are designed to be flexible in their context and can be executed in lecture and lab settings as an in-class activity, a homework activity, and/or a collaborative lab exercise. For example,
- Activities 1 and 2 can be completed as homework, and Activity 3 can be completed as an in-class activity or lab exercise;
- Activity 1 can be completed in class, Activity 2 completed as homework, and Activity 3 completed in lab; or
- All activities can be completed in-class and/or in lab.
In the Measuring the Earth with GPS module, this unit can be used in sequence with the other units or alone. If paired with Unit 4: Groundwater, GPS, and Water Resources, this unit should be used first, since it develops skills that students will then build on. This unit is an adaption of Ice and Sea Level Changes, Unit 4: An Uplifting Story of Sea Level Change.
Description and Teaching Materials
Introductory Lecture (5 minutes)
This brief lecture introduction provides context for Unit 3 by introducing students to:
- Glacial budget and flow
- Think-pair-share asking students to determine how the size of a glacier changes if the additions and subtractions are out of balance
- Brainstorm how scientists can measure the changing size of a glacier and introduce the idea that GPS can be used to measure glacial size
Slides: Unit 3 Introductory slides (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 6.6MB Oct14 19)
Optional Introductory Glacier Handout for students: Unit 3 Introductory Glacier Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.9MB Jul11 19) Unit 3 Introductory Glacier Handout PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 3.6MB Jul11 19)
- This 2-page document shows pictures and poses a few questions to help students brainstorm about glaciers and how GPS might be used to measure them.
- What could make a glacier become larger? become smaller?
- How can scientists measure whether the amount of ice in a glacier is changing?
- Should communities care if the size of glaciers is changing? Why?
- How could GPS be used to measure glaciers?
Activity 1: Observe and Describe (25–45 minutes)
In this activity, students will learn how to describe scientific data by making careful observations of it. Students will conclude by using that data to make a logical scientific interpretation. The questions guide students through the process that scientists use when they work to solve scientific questions. This particular activity uses data from a GPS station near Skagway Glacier in Alaska to better understand the impact glaciers have on the motion of nearby bedrock.
Students can complete this handout as homework, in-class individually or in small groups, or in a lab in small groups. The graphs in the handout itself should be supplemented with the large version for easier readability (see below)—if students are working in groups, one large set of graphs per group is enough. If this is done in class, suggestions for formative assessment discussions are given in the teaching tips, below.
Student activity handout:
- Student version:
- Activity 3.1 Student Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 509kB Jul11 19)
- Activity 3.1 Student Exercise PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 704kB Jul11 19)
- Full size GPS graphs for easier viewing are below, beneath Activity 3
- Instructor version with rubric:
Activity 2: Animation (15–20 minutes)
In this activity, students will watch an animation that illustrates how GPS can be used to determine the amount of ice in a glacier. It describes the relationship between changing glacier mass and vertical bedrock motion.
Students can complete this handout as homework, in-class individually or in small groups, or in a lab in small groups.
Student activity handout:
- Student version:
- Activity 3.2 Student Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 201kB Jul11 19)
- Activity 3.2 Student Exercise PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 316kB Jul11 19)
- Instructor version:
- YouTube: Glaciers Are Retreating—How Can We Measure the Full Ice Loss?. English and Spanish closed captions are available in YouTube; click "Settings" icon and select the subtitle version of your choice.
- File: Glaciers Are Retreating-How Can We Measure the Full Ice Loss? (MP4 Video 14.6MB Feb13 19)
Activity 3: Analyze, Interpret, and Apply (30–80 minutes)
In this activity, students will learn how to analyze and interpret scientific data after describing it. Students will conclude by using that data to support a recommendation they make about an issue relevant to society. The questions guide students through the process that scientists use when they work to solve scientific questions. This particular activity uses data from a GPS station near Helheim Glacier in Greenland to better interpret long-term trends that can be interpreted by analyzing GPS position of bedrock near the glacier.
Students can complete this handout as homework, in-class individually or in small groups, or in a lab in small groups. The graphs in the handout itself should be supplemented with the large version for easier readability (see below)—if students are working in groups, one large set of graphs per group is enough.
Student activity handout:
- Student version:
- Activity 3.3 Student Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 348kB Jul11 19)
- Activity 3.3 Student Exercise PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 511kB Jul11 19)
- Instructor version with rubric:
- Includes examples of student work.
All graphs and original data files
Below are files with handouts, graphs, and data used throughout Unit 3. GPS data come from https://www.unavco.org/instrumentation/networks/status/pbo and http://geodesy.unr.edu/NGLStationPages/gpsnetmap/GPSNetMap.html
- All graphs of GPS data: Unit 3 GPS graphs (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1MB Oct2 18) Unit 3 GPS graphs PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 900kB Oct2 18)
- This handout contains larger versions of the GPS graphs. You may find it helpful to have a copy of these printed out for each table group, particularly for the graphs in which the students need to calculate an annual range of motion as well as a rate.
- All Excel files with GPS data: Unit 3 GPS data (Zip Archive 4.4MB Oct2 18)
- Contains information on the data sources as well as the original spreadsheet data and graphs from which the student exercises and handouts were generated. For instructor reference or to make changes to the way data are displayed.
Teaching Notes and Tips
- Students wrestle with some misconceptions related to what GPS data is measuring. For instance they may think the GPS is measuring the change in thickness of the ice instead of the ground level change. Some students think the GPS is measuring the actual sea level change. Students also confuse positions (mm) with rates (mm/yr).
- The annual vertical cycle is very evident in Greenland, but at first glance the timing might seem surprising because the bedrock uplift cycle peaks several months after the ice mass cycle reaches its minimum in late summer. Bevis et al., 2012 demonstrate that this is because the GPS vertical cycle is also responding to seasonal changes in air mass as well as ice mass. Only a very astute introductory student would notice this, but we wanted to mention the explanation in case it comes up.
Activity 1: Observe and Describe
- If Activity 1 is done as homework, you may wish to have students compare their answers for the first few minutes of class or lab to ensure they understand it. In particular, if may be useful for them to compare their answers to Questions 5, 11, and 16.
- If Activity 1 is done in class, you may wish to have the students pause after certain questions for discussion. Students can compare their answers to the answers of other groups, or you may wish to lead a full-class discussion. In particular, if may be useful for them to discuss Questions 5, 11, and 16. For Question 5, if desired, you can assign different years to different groups, and they can compare answers across years.
- Here are slides showing the GPS data and stations to aid in class discussions, if desired: Unit 3 GPS photos, locations, and graphs (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.1MB Jul11 19)
Activity 2: Animation
- If Activity 2 is done as homework, you may wish to have students compare their answers for the first few minutes of class or lab to ensure they understand it. Or, you may wish to show the animation again and have a full-class discussion. In particular, it may be useful for them to compare their answers to Questions 8, 9, 13, and 14.
- If Activity 2 is done in class, you may wish to have the students discuss the animation after they watch it. In particular, students can compare their answers to the answers of other groups, or you may wish to lead a full-class discussion. In particular, it may be useful for them to compare their answers to Questions 8, 9, 13, and 14.
- If you do not wish to assign the handout for students to complete while watching the animation, you can instead ask Questions 8, 9, 13, and 14 as discussion questions after watching the animation.
Part 3: Analyze, Interpret, and Apply
- We recommend that students work on Activity 3 in small groups, so they can work collaboratively to solve the problems.
- Activity 3 builds on skills learned during Activity 1 and concepts learned during Activity 2, so they should precede this activity. However, if your students are proficient at observing and describing data in graphs, it may be possible to skip Activity 1 (note that there are some concepts and skills that students build on that you may need to teach them).
- Here are slides showing the GPS data and stations to aid in class discussion, if desired: Unit 3 GPS photos, locations, and graphs (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 16.1MB Jul11 19)
- The Activity 3 Answer Key also includes a rubric for the more complex question related to providing sea level hazard advice and examples of student answers. If your students struggle with how to write high-quality answers, you could consider sharing the rubric and example student answers and asking students to evaluate what makes a high-quality answer. This may help them improve for next time.
Activities 1 and 2 can be assessed formatively by using some of the questions as prompts for discussions, as described above in Teaching Notes and Tips. In addition, if the students are working in class or lab on the questions, the instructor can circulate and listen to student conversations and answer questions to ensure that the desired learning is occurring.
Activity 3 (as well as Activities 1 and 2, if desired) can be used as the summative assessment for this unit (Unit 3: Glaciers, GPS, and Sea Level Rise). In addition to the student activity handout, the following assessments can be used as homework, quiz, or exam questions. There are open-ended and multiple-choice questions included. Note that the Assessment page also includes more general summative assessments that can be used for this unit as well.
- Student assessment questions:
- Unit 3 Additional Assessment Questions (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 732kB Jul11 19)
- Unit 3 Additional Assessment Questions PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 862kB Jul11 19)
- associated full size graphs (Acrobat (PDF) 506kB Oct14 19)
- Instructor assessment questions with grading rubrics:
References and Resources
This unit is an adaption of Unit 4: An Uplifting Story of Sea Level Change.
Additional Resources for Instructors:
- If your students have difficulties converting units, a helpful webpage is The Math You Need When You Need It: How Do I Change Units
- There is a UNAVCO GPS Spotlight on Station KULU that includes information, photos, and data that can be used to supplement Part 3.
- There is a UNAVCO GPS Spotlight on GLS1, a station on a glacier that includes information, photos, and data that can be used to supplement Part 3.
- There is a UNAVCO GEODETIC Science Snapshot on Observing Abrupt Melting in the Greenland Ice Sheet and Relating Air Mass Changes to Bedrock Changes.
- If you want your students to learn more about evidence for the loss of glaciers in Greenland, an interesting activity that uses additional geodectic data is Ice and Sea Level Changes, Unit 3: Warm with a Chance of Melting.
- Bevis et al., 2012 Bedrock displacements in Greenland manifest ice mass variations, climate cycles and climate change