Sea Ice Predictive Model
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
- plot and extrapolate data to make predictions.
- use simple statistics to evaluate a linear relationship.
= analyze graphical data to compare Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents.
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description and Teaching Materials
In the first part, students manually graph atmospheric carbon dioxide and Arctic sea ice extent and then extrapolate the data to estimate when ice-free conditions will arrive. The exercise differs from others involving such prediction (e.g. http://serc.carleton.edu/sisl/2012workshop/activities/70815.html) by using annual data averaged over just seven five-year periods (from 1979 to 2013). This not only makes the tasks short enough to allow time for discussion, but it also strengthens the correlation students find.
Prior knowledge of statistics is not assumed. The activity sends students to an online site to calculate a correlation coefficient and explains the meaning of the coefficient. By suggesting other variables that could also correlate to sea ice extent, students develop awareness that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.
In the final part of the activity, students compare the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice data. Most students are surprised to discover that Antarctic sea ice extent has not decreased since 1979 and are curious why. This can lead to discussion of the complexities of climate and feedback loops and underscores that our understanding of climate is far from complete.Student Worksheet for Sea Ice Activity (Microsoft Word 667kB May19 17)
Answer Key for Sea Ice Activity (Microsoft Word 667kB May19 17)
Plots of annual and five-year average data (PowerPoint 408kB May19 17)
Teaching Notes and Tips
At the end of my activity, I compare the student plots of the five-year data to plots of annual data, which show greater variability. Doing this affords an opportunity to reinforce the lessons of the activity. I also follow up with videos of Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent over time.
On exams, I ask students to 1) compare and contrast the Arctic and Antarctic marine environments, based on the worksheet and other materials (not included here) and 2) explain the meaning of "correlation does not imply causation".
References and Resources
Link to InTeGrate's "Modern CO2 Accumulation": http://serc.carleton.edu/integrate/teaching_materials/change_inthe_air/activity5.html
Link to Arctic sea ice video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vj1G9gqhkYA
Link to Antarctic sea ice video: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/teia-was062416.php