Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Final Project - Melting Ice in a Warmer World

What, where, why and who.

Objective:  My final project is a lesson on melting terrestrial ice and its effects on the planet.  The students will come away with a greater understanding of the causes and effects of melting terrestrial ice and the impacts this will have on Alaskans, both Native and non-Native.

Photo credit:  Teacher's Domain
Goals:  This lesson will be part of a unit on global warming and climate change.  The unit will involve lessons on the impact of several aspects of climate change, including changing habitats, changing length of seasons, invasive species and positive feedback loops from melting permafrost to melting snow and ice.  The lesson prior to this one will be on melting sea ice.  These lessons will also address how these changes will affect the Arctic regions and the indigenous people that inhabit them.

Rationale:  The reason for teaching this lesson - and the unit of which it is a part - is to help students see the connection between Western science, Native ways of knowing and the real world.  It is also to make the students aware of a very real and controversial topic that will affect their lives in many ways, for decades to come.

Photo credit: Teacher's Domain
Audience:  This lesson will be part of the curriculum of a high school Earth Science class with students in grades 10 through 12.  The students are all residents of the Kenai Peninsula with about 10% of the population being Native Alaskans from all over the state.

The meat and potatoes.

The lesson will start with a quick review of melting sea ice, which was addressed in the previous lesson.  This will be followed by a viewing of the video Arctic Climate Perspectives that is an excellent comparison of Western scientific knowledge and Native knowledge as well as a very good demonstration of how global warming affects the Inupiat people of Barrow, Alaska.  This will be followed by an informal class survey on the allotment of 1000 snowflakes and a subsequent visit on the smartboard to the USGS website page on glaciers and the answers to the 1000 snowflakes survey.  Then, a viewing of the Extreme Ice Survey video on the Mendenhall Glacier will be followed by
a visit to the Documenting Glacial Change interactive site.

After examining all this background material, we will discuss the day's assignment:  mapping the coastline of the Kenai Peninsula taking different amounts of sea-level rise into account.  As an example, we will visit the interactive site, Mountain of Ice:  If The Ice Melts and view changing coastlines of Florida, as well as the map of Antarctica.  We will also go back to the USGS site and view the Glaciers and Sea Level page.  We will record the change in sea levels for the various scenarios of glacial melt.  Then, the class will be broken into groups.  Each group will be given two topographical maps, either covering the northwestern half or the southeastern half of the Kenai Peninsula.  Some groups will be asked to map the coastline if a 20-foot sea level rise occurs due to Greenland's glaciers melting, while others will be asked to map the coastline if a 240-foot sea level rise occurs due to Antarctica's glaciers melting.  With colored pencils, the new ocean levels will be filled in in blue.  This may take a second class period to be completed and will be followed by individual short essays on how the various heights of sea-level change will affect life on the Peninsula, including subsistence hunting and fishing. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Module IX - Terrestrial Ice Systems

360 degrees of the Milky Way (
Explain - What new learning have I taken from this module?

Though I was familiar with the process of gathering past climate data from ice cores and tree rings, I was suprised to find that such data has also been gathered from coral reefs and lake sediments.  I was also surprised to find that some of that data indicated past climatic changes more dramatic than those predicted by the present trend of global warming that took place in as little as one to three years!  The implications of the impact that would have on modern societies that are much less flexible than ancient hunter-gatherer societes are alarming.  Though the science behind the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" may be a bit questionable, the idea behind such a rapid climate change is becoming less far-fetched, in light of such evidence.
Glacier Bay to Hoonah, Ak - 91 miles (Google Earth image)

I found it interesting that the link to Wikipedia mentioned the possibility of some of our cyclical climate changes being due to our solar system's orbital journey through the galaxy.  Though I'm having trouble imagining how our changing position in the galaxy would effect our climate, the idea really does give credence to the idea that EVERYTHING is connected.

The exercie on Google Earth was quite enlightening, as well.  That must have been quite a task to move a village over 90 miles to get out of the path of an advancing glacier.  Imagine the monumental task ahead of the city of Miami, if it has to get pushed nearly to Georgia by advancing sea levels.

Tundra polygons, flight from Barrow to Atqasuk (photo:  D. Armstrong)

When I taught in Atqasuk, up near Barrow, I taught a couple of North Slope Science classes that I found to be very instructional for myself, as well.  I learned a lot about permafrost and some of the geological landforms of the Arctic.  Though we studied the effects of melting permafrost on the content of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (yet another of those blasted positive feedback loops), I hadn't heard about the added complication of arctic lakes starting to drain when the "plug was pulled" by melting underlying permafrost.  A visiting group of scientists came to speak to my classes about the biology of the lakes in the area and the possibility of tapping the methane from one of the lakes to help generate power for the village.  In the end, that didn't prove to be cost effective, though the idea of converting methane into carbon dioxide, a more benign greenhouse gas, was inviting.  Imagine a remote village having a negative greenhouse gas footprint!

Extend and Evaluate - How can I use this week's resources and how useful, insightful or relevant are this module's information resources to me?

I found the visuals associated with the old and new photos of Alaskan glaciers on the Documenting Glacial Change interactive lesson very useful and will use that, next week, in my Earth Science class when we start studying glaciers.  Likewise, the Extreme Ice Survey will also be a very useful visual of yet another of Alaska's shrinking glaciers.  If the Ice Melts is another instructive visual, particularly if pictures of Florida's changing coast line are coupled with similar pictures of what the Kenai Peninsula would look like (I have yet to find those).   I will also use the video on the Fastest Glacier, on western Greenland's Jacobshavn Glacier.

Three colleagues and three comments

I enjoyed Carolyn's comment about changing the "big burp" to the "big fart" for the benifit of middle schoolers.  That will grab the attention of the high schoolers, as well, I'm sure.  At first, I thought her heading, "If it makes it to the dinner table, you win" was going to be a reference to subsistance hunting instead of what subject matters the students bring home to the dinner table conversation.  Either way, it still holds true.

It must be tough for Alison to get to spend a few days in Hawaii, especially at this time of year.  She mentioned how much of a disconnect there seems to be in the warmer climes when it comes to global warming.  True, but we seem to have such a disconnect right here in Alaska, as well.  I guess that's part of our jobs as teachers - to get that disconnect re-connected!

Konrad's blog had a great link to a virtual tour of the permafrost tunnel in Fairbanks.  He also had some great shots of the shrinking Portage Glacier.