Teacher/Student Version Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice How do we know that Arctic Sea Ice is slowly melting?



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Teacher/Student Version


Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice

How do we know that Arctic Sea Ice is slowly melting?
Key Concept
The expanse of floating Arctic Ice is seasonal. For the last 30 years we have measured the extent of the sea ice from satellite photographs taken in late August or early September. From year to year the ice level fluctuates, sometime it increases and sometimes it decreases. The key to interpreting the data set is to look at many points over a long period of time to determine the trend.
What You Should Know


  • Sea ice is frozen ocean water.

  • The white color of the sea ice reflects 80% of the sunlight that strikes it.

  • Liquid, unfrozen ocean absorbs 90% of the striking sunlight.

  • The sea ice helps keep the polar regions cool and moderates weather globally.

  • Sea Ice directly affects climate, wildlife and people who live in the Arctic.

  • A small temperature increase at the poles of 2º F is the difference between ice water and liquid water.


Materials (per student or group of students)


  • Arctic Sea Ice Data Set

  • Graph Paper

  • Ruler


The Prediction
What will the best-fit line tell us about the extent of the sea ice data taken over a thirty-year period?

Graphing Activity


  1. Look at the data sheet “Thirty Years of Measuring the Extent of the Arctic Sea Ice”.

  2. Glance over the data set and ask yourself, “Is there any pattern to the data set?”

  3. Answer the pre-graphing questions.

  4. Graph the data set.

  5. Draw a best-fit line through the data points on your graph. You can do this by using a ruler. Draw a straight line at the point where approximately half of the points are above the line and half are below the line.

  6. Answer the conclusion questions.


Pre-Graphing Questions


  1. What kind of graph will you use to display the data? Why?


  1. How should you orient your graph paper? (Draw a sketch here.)


  1. Write a meaningful title for your graph.



  1. Write the label of your x axis.



  1. Write the label of your y axis.



  1. What would be a logical scale for your y axis?



Graphing Conclusion Questions



  1. What is the general direction of your best-fit line?


  1. Make two statements about the Arctic Basin Sea Ice after studying your graph.


  • Statement 1:


  • Statement 2:



  1. Does this graph support or not support the idea that the Earth is experiencing a global climate change? Explain your answer.


  1. What other data sets would you request to see or collect to verify global climate change?



What’s Happening?
Arctic Sea Ice levels are doubtlessly decreasing. The consequences of this change will affect the Arctic region and ultimately the entire globe.
Arctic Sea Ice Data Sheet

Thirty Years of Measuring the Extent of Arctic Sea Ice


Year

Ice (millions sq km)

1979

8.2

1980

8.1

1981

7.7

1982

8.3

1983

8.4

1984

7.9

1985

7.5

1986

8.1

1987

7.6

1988

8.0

1989

8.1

1990

6.8

1991

7.5

1992

8.0

1993

7.4

1994

7.7

1995

6.7

1996

8.3

1997

7.5

1998

7.6

1999

7.5

2000

7.4

2001

7.7

2002

6.6

2003

6.9

2004

6.8

2005

6.4

2006

6.6

2007

5.5

2008

5.8

2009

5.1

Measurements taken in August or September from 1979 – 2009



Note: measurements accurate to +/- .1

Peggy Lubchenco, Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, UC Santa Barbara

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