Sea ice: Research in action

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Lesson overview

Measuring the thickness of sea ice has not been possible via satellite until very recently and even now the Cryosat satellite can only survey up to a latitude of 88° north and south. The other way to measure sea ice thickness is by hand, walking for days across the frozen ocean in temperatures down to -40°C. Students will learn how the data they will be studying was collected.

Learning outcomes

  • Understand that measuring sea ice thickness is difficult and important
  • Understand what it would be like to be an Arctic explorer
  • Get familiar with the techniques used for collecting snow and ice thickness data
  • Demonstrate understanding of the realities of remote field research
  • Debate the issue of what kind of people can collect scientific data

Lesson steps

  1. Can you tell how thick the ice is? (10 mins)
    Satellite imagery is able to show sea ice extent. Show pupils the European Space Agency (ESA) CryoSat Mission
    http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/CryoSat/Sea_ice. However, it is much harder to determine sea ice thickness via satellite. Another option is to collect the data by hand. Introduce pupils to the Catlin Arctic Survey 2009. If the ice is thinning, then it will be more susceptible to increased melt rates. Student Sheet 6a can be used to promote classroom discussion about the importance of the expedition.
  2. Life on an Arctic expedition (10 mins)
    Show pupils series of images from the gallery and videos that shows what a day in the life of an Arctic expedition is like.
  3. Data collection in the Arctic (5 mins)
    The data set on snow and ice thickness was mostly collected by hand, drilling into the ice using a hand drill. The videos ‘Drilling the ice’ show how the data was collected.
  4. A day in the life (25 mins)
    Pupils create a presentation of the day in the life of an Arctic expedition. They can use a slideshow programme, a Twitter board (Student Sheet 2b), a blog post (Student Sheet 2c) or a storyboard for a short video (Student Sheet 2d).
  5. Plenary (10 mins)
    Pose these questions for class debate: Why do you think that there were no scientists on the expedition? What might have been the advantages and disadvantages of just having experienced polar explorers?
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