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Climate Change Expedition - Virtual

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Earth and Environmental Sciences

Students will analyze historical, long-term trends in climate and explore environmental process through hands-on activities to gain an understanding of weather and climate in Northern Canada and relate to their own experiences with local weather patterns to discuss the changing climate in the north.

This workshop was designed to be delivered virtually. Students may be at home with their own devices or in a classroom setting. Students will go on a guided exploration to discover the ideal location to build a new Arctic weather research station. They will determine the location by examining real data regarding weather, ice thickness, and ice extent data in Canada’s Arctic. Students will re-create the deconstruction of an ice core sample to describe past climate. Students will identify meteorological trends from the past climate. By combining meteorological data from the past with current measurements and their own observations about the weather and climate in their community, the students will make predictions about the future climate. Students will think creatively in groups to come up with solutions to help lessen their community’s impact on climate change.

What You Need

Activity #1: Research Centre

  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Workbook
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Calculator
  • Marker

Activity #2: Ice Cores

  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Workbook

Activity #3: Discussion

  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Workbook
  • Scenarios document

Activity guide:

Activity presentation: 

Attachments:

Safety Notes

Ensure you are familiar with Let's Talk Science's precautions with respect to safe virtual outreach to youth.

What To Do

Introduction

  • Introduce the three main factors that contribute to weather: sun, air and water.
  • Ask students how the sun affects the weather.
    • The sun provides heat and light. 
    • The sun provides energy.
    • The sun powers the water cycle.
  • Either show the PowerPoint slide of the water cycle or draw it on the board as you talk about the different steps.
  • Explain the water cycle in terms of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Ask the class to identify the three spheres involved in the water cycle.
    • Atmosphere (air surrounding the planet)
    • Lithosphere (the ground)
    • Hydrosphere (all water on/under the surface of the Earth)
  • Define climate and weather.
    • Discuss the climate in their community and compare it to other regions in Canada such as the Arctic or the Prairies. 
  • Discuss the different types of data scientists use to study climate. 
  • Explain how the cryosphere (includes many components that make up the Arctic environment) is very sensitive to the effects of climate change. Today they will be looking at data collected from Arctic research stations to observe if the data supports a changing climate. 

Activity #1: Research Centre

Expedition: Today you will be scientists undergoing a very important expedition in the Arctic. We have received funding to build a new long-term climate research centre in the Arctic; we must find a safe place to build the facility so we can observe the weather and obtain more data about the Arctic climate while ensuring staff visiting the facility will stay safe for years to come.

  • Students can work in small groups of 3-4 or individually. Each group (or individual) will work on tasks separately but the class will progress through the activities together with the facilitator. Each student group will need a calculator.
  • Show map of Canada (slide 8 on PowerPoint) highlighting the location of Cambridge Bay – this is the area we will be focusing on throughout the workshop.
  • Give everyone a paper workbook or direct students to use it digitally. Point students to the Arctic map grid (Slide 9, Page 1) – explain that they will be using this map throughout the workshop to determine a safe location to build a research facility in the Arctic.
  • Have students use a pencil to predict a location on the map to build their research facility before receiving any scientific data or evidence of climate change. Students will later adjust or change their location throughout the workshop as they receive further data and evidence from the activities.

Activity #1a: Climate or Weather?

  • Direct each group (or individual) to the Activity #1- Data document or provide a paper copy of the data. There are 10 data sets in the document. Each group (or individual) only needs to work with ONE data set, so assign each group a dataset from 1-10. Note: It is ok if multiple students are working on the same dataset as long as all 10 are used. Each data set represents the weather for one year – avoid telling them this, Instead have them guess the amount of time each data set represents after they have completed the activity.
  • Students will look at the data and then decide what the average weather event was and calculate the average temperature for that time (one data set = 1 year of weather events).
  • Have one person from each group graph the average temperature they calculated for the year they were given on the graph in their workbook (page 3) or the graph on the PowerPoint (Slide 13).
  • Display the weather graphics and the map of the Arctic the students will use to determine if this would be enough information to select an area on the map for where the new research site should be built.

Activity #1b: Sea Ice Extent

The light blue squares on the map represent water that may or may not be frozen. Dark blue is open water and brown represents land masses. What month is it currently? Is it likely that there is ice on the light blue squares right now? Should we remove them from the map or keep them in our search area? Based on what you have learned so far what squares are unlikely to safe to build a research centre?

  • As students begin to name different squares to remove off the map they can cross them off. They should choose to remove all the squares with land, open water and seasonally frozen water.
  • Direct students to the second map in their workbook (page 4) that shows sea ice extent in 1970.
  • Have students examine the map in their workbook and on the PowerPoint (slide 17). Ask students to draw what they think the sea ice extent looked like in 2018 on their map.
  • Have students predict what the ice extent will look like in 2030 by drawing the shape of ice on the map in their workbook.
  • Once students make their predictions, show them the 2030 ice piece (slide 19). Allow students to observe what scientists have predicted the ice extent to be in comparison to their own predictions.
  • Repeat this for years 2050 (slide 20) and 2100 (slide 21).
  • Have students look at the circle representing sea ice in 2100 over the map again and cross off any corresponding sections that fall outside of the circle on their workbook Arctic map.

Activity #1C – Ice Thickness

  • Show students where ice break and ice formation occurs on the plot.

What do you notice about the data that are plotted here? Discuss briefly with your group.

  • Have students discuss anything they notice on the graph for 1-2 minutes. Ask a few groups to volunteer their answers afterwards.

Look at how much ice forms each year. Is there a trend in the data?

  • Students may say the data trend downward. Discuss the amount of data present and whether we can confidently say the data are trending downward.
  • Something else they might notice is that each year is different, but generally the same.

In climate and weather, we do expect some variability, which is why we look at the overall picture instead of the day-by-day.

  • (Slide 29) Show students the Arctic map with the data about sea ice thickness of the squares. Ask them to predict what ice thickness can support a research centre.
  • (Slide 30) Now tell students that we’re going do a fun quiz to see how thick ice needs to be to support various weights. Note: youth are not expected to know the answers. It’s intended to be a fun guessing-game.
  • (Slides 30-33) Ask them the questions on the slides. Can use Zoom poll.
  • (Slide 34) Show students the Arctic map again. Now that they have more knowledge about ice thickness, ask them to cross of the squares that can’t support the research centre. What square(s) could support the research centre?
  • If previous location is not adequate, allow these groups to choose another area to search.
  • (Slide 35) If students have found the right location, your guide confirms that you’ve found the right location.
  • If students have not found the right location, your guide reveals the safest location for the research facility.

Activity #2: Ice Cores

  • (Slide 40) Show students the animated ice core. This core is made up of 10 layers.

Each layer represents a different layer of ice in the ice core over 1,000 years. Each layer has various contents in it that we are going to analyze.

  • Direct students to analyze the ice core on slide 40 and fill out the accompanying questions in their workbook (Pg. 5-7). Highlight the different components they will find in their ice cores.
  • Go over the questions/answers in the workbook with students.

Activity #3: Climate Change Discussion

  • Split the class into groups. Each group will discuss and assess climate related impacts. Students will be expected to determine associated risk factors and brainstorm what we can do to prevent or reduce the effects of climate change.
  • Give each group a scenario from the scenarios document. Instruct them that they will analyze, assess and plan for the associated climate-related risks of one scenario.
  • Direct each student to their workbook (Pg. 8), which they will fill out in their assigned groups.
  • After students have discussed these topics in their groups, briefly go through each scenario with the class and then have groups discuss their answers.

Wrap-Up

  • Show the time lapse video (Slide 47) showing the loss of Arctic sea ice.
  • Review the impacts of climate change in terms of Arctic sea ice by asking questions such as:
    • How does rising temperatures impact the ice cores/our ability to study the climate record?
    • How will it impact the Arctic and the weather where we live?
    • What will happen as sea levels rise?
  • Ask students to share any other evidence that they have experienced due to climate change.
  • Discuss possible careers related to the topics covered and what students would need to do (schooling, experience, etc.) to get into those careers.

Discovery

Weather is defined as the short-term state of the atmosphere for a given period of time. The three main factors that contribute to the weather are the sun, air and water. Climate refers to the weather in an area over a long period of time (30+ years). Scientists will look at the average precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, and phenomena such as fog, frost and hail storms to determine the climate of an area. While the Earth’s climate is naturally variable, its average state is regulated by factors such as the Earth’s orbit around the sun and the natural greenhouse gas effect.

In Activity 1A: Climate or Weather? each group is provided with the information for one year between 1954-2013. Individually, the data only represents the weather for the area but collectively can be used to describe the climate over the past 70 years. According to the information provided, the average annual temperature in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut is increasing.

The Ice Thickness vs Date plot helps to visualize the freeze-thaw cycle. When ice freezes, the data looks like a gentle bell curve because it takes time for ice to form. The size of the peak is directly related to the amount of ice that froze that winter (small peaks = thin ice). Narrow peaks mean that the freeze-thaw cycle was shorter than the year before. As ice melts, there is more of a drop off in the shape of the peak because thawing occurs faster than freezing. This is because melting is impacted by a feedback loop. As it gets warmer outside, the water and ground around the ice also warms up and it causes the ice to melt faster. Therefore, any areas with seasonal ice, open ground or open water would be unsuitable to build a research centre.

Students will learn that the average ice thickness has decreased by almost 10 cm. Safe travel throughout the Arctic depends on the ice being thick enough to support people and vehicles on it. Students should conclude that spot E8 is the best place to set up the research station.

Ice Cores

Scientists study climate change by monitoring the gas composition in the atmosphere, comparing air temperatures to historical records, monitoring weather patterns, studying changes in ice in the Arctic and exploring sediment cores. Ice is used to study the climate record because it preserves or protects things like dust and particles from changing over time. Scientists can look at the thickness of the ice and snow layers to determine the temperature and duration of the winter. Scientists also look for particles stuck in the ice, chemicals in the ice, and the thickness of the different types of layers and bubbles of gas (i.e., greenhouse gases) in the ice. All this information provides scientists with clues about what the environment on Earth was like at the time. 

The temperature on Earth is in constant fluctuation, but historically the changes occur over thousands of years. This would give animals and plants time to adapt and adjust to different conditions. This current episode of global warming is occurring much more quickly and is cause for concern.

The impacts of climate change spread far beyond the Arctic, across Canada and around the world. Climate change endangers global ecosystems, human health, Indigenous ways of life, coastal communities, global transportation systems and much more. It is important to limit our impact on the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prepare our communities for a changing landscape.

  • This workshop discusses topics which can lead to feelings of eco-anxiety among volunteers, educators and youth if not presented in a thoughtful manner. The most important things to remember are to be honest, hopeful, developmentally appropriate, and action oriented. This workshop was created with these guidelines in mind. For more details, refer to the volunteer resource, Being Conscious of Eco-Anxiety.
  • Activity #1: Research Centre - As an extension activity or if they finish early, students can record the total rainfall and snowfall onto the two blank columns of the table. After confirming with them that each square represents a month of data, they can guess which month each square represents. They can also calculate the total rainfall and total snowfall by taking the sum of each column; these values can be plotted with the class to look for any possible trends in the precipitation data.

What's Happening?

Weather is defined as the short-term state of the atmosphere for a given period of time. The three main factors that contribute to the weather are the sun, air and water. Climate refers to the weather in an area over a long period of time (30+ years). Scientists will look at the average precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, and phenomena such as fog, frost and hail storms to determine the climate of an area. While the Earth’s climate is naturally variable, its average state is regulated by factors such as the Earth’s orbit around the sun and the natural greenhouse gas effect.

In Activity 1A: Climate or Weather? each group is provided with the information for one year between 1954-2013. Individually, the data only represents the weather for the area but collectively can be used to describe the climate over the past 70 years. According to the information provided, the average annual temperature in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut is increasing.

The Ice Thickness vs Date plot helps to visualize the freeze-thaw cycle. When ice freezes, the data looks like a gentle bell curve because it takes time for ice to form. The size of the peak is directly related to the amount of ice that froze that winter (small peaks = thin ice). Narrow peaks mean that the freeze-thaw cycle was shorter than the year before. As ice melts, there is more of a drop off in the shape of the peak because thawing occurs faster than freezing. This is because melting is impacted by a feedback loop. As it gets warmer outside, the water and ground around the ice also warms up and it causes the ice to melt faster. Therefore, any areas with seasonal ice, open ground or open water would be unsuitable to build a research centre.

Students will learn that the average ice thickness has decreased by almost 10 cm. Safe travel throughout the Arctic depends on the ice being thick enough to support people and vehicles on it. Students should conclude that spot E8 is the best place to set up the research station.

Ice Cores

Scientists study climate change by monitoring the gas composition in the atmosphere, comparing air temperatures to historical records, monitoring weather patterns, studying changes in ice in the Arctic and exploring sediment cores. Ice is used to study the climate record because it preserves or protects things like dust and particles from changing over time. Scientists can look at the thickness of the ice and snow layers to determine the temperature and duration of the winter. Scientists also look for particles stuck in the ice, chemicals in the ice, and the thickness of the different types of layers and bubbles of gas (i.e., greenhouse gases) in the ice. All this information provides scientists with clues about what the environment on Earth was like at the time. 

The temperature on Earth is in constant fluctuation, but historically the changes occur over thousands of years. This would give animals and plants time to adapt and adjust to different conditions. This current episode of global warming is occurring much more quickly and is cause for concern.

Why Does It Matter?

The impacts of climate change spread far beyond the Arctic, across Canada and around the world. Climate change endangers global ecosystems, human health, Indigenous ways of life, coastal communities, global transportation systems and much more. It is important to limit our impact on the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and prepare our communities for a changing landscape.

Investigate Further

  • This workshop discusses topics which can lead to feelings of eco-anxiety among volunteers, educators and youth if not presented in a thoughtful manner. The most important things to remember are to be honest, hopeful, developmentally appropriate, and action oriented. This workshop was created with these guidelines in mind. For more details, refer to the volunteer resource, Being Conscious of Eco-Anxiety.
  • Activity #1: Research Centre - As an extension activity or if they finish early, students can record the total rainfall and snowfall onto the two blank columns of the table. After confirming with them that each square represents a month of data, they can guess which month each square represents. They can also calculate the total rainfall and total snowfall by taking the sum of each column; these values can be plotted with the class to look for any possible trends in the precipitation data.