Arctic Sea Ice Extent

Learning Objectives

  • To understand the spatial variations of sea ice in the Arctic Circle
  • To understand the temporal variations of sea ice in the Arctic Circle
  • To read a data visualization
  • To plot data and analyze data
  • To reflect upon why it is important to understand sea ice changes over time

Standards Addressed


Supplies/Materials/Articles Needed

Computers with internet access are necessary to access the data online. If no computers are available, a teacher can generate a table with the data for students to plot. Graph paper is necessary for students to generate the plots by hand - otherwise, students can use Google Spreadsheet or MS Excel to plot the data. Colored pencils and rulers are useful for the graphs drawn by hand.

Preparation Time Needed

Minimal. Teachers need to photocopy the worksheet (or have it ready for electronic submission). If the teacher wants to provide a x-y graph for the students to do the plotting, it will take little time to prepare and photocopy this handout (not provided).

Class Time Required

Students will take approximately 50 minutes to complete the exercise as described in the attachment. If a teacher provides a table of the data and blank graph paper with the x-y axes already determined, the exercise will take less time. Note that teachers may need to help students determine what to plot on each axis.

Activity Description

This exercise challenges students to think about the extent sea ice grows and melts each year and how sea ice coverage in the Arctic Circle changes with time. Students utilize the National Snow and Ice Data Center's Sea Ice Animation Tool (link is external) to explore these changes in the Northern Hemisphere. Teachers can have students explore just one year (if time is limited) or view the changes over several years (teachers can select which years). Students collect sea ice extent data and then are asked to plot the data and analyze. At the conclusion of the exercise, students compare the sea ice extent changes over the years and are asked to reflect upon why knowing and understanding these data are important.

I typically divide the students into pairs to work on the exercise during class, but this could also be an individual homework assignment.

There are several variations of activities for scaling geologic time that have been classroom tested and shared through the Science Education Resource Center (SERC). Teachers are encouraged to check out these additional variations.

File Arctic Sea Ice - student instructions129.38 KB