Sea Level and Climate Change
This unit introduces how sea level has varied in the past and projections for the future. In addition, this unit introduces two of the mechanisms responsible for the recent rise in sea level: melting ice and the thermal expansion of water.

More information about climate change is available in the unit on Climate Change. More information about tides is available in the unit on Tides.

Workshop Presentations

PowerPoint Click to download the MS Powerpoint file (15.2 Mbytes).

PDF Click to view or download the presentation in PDF (4.1 Mbytes).

HTML Click to view the presentation in html (coming soon)

Online Lecture Click here to view a streaming lecture discussing the mechanisms responsible for rising sea levels and its consequences. (coming soon)

Classroom Activities

Glaciers and Sea Ice. PDF Word Document In this activity, students model the melting of sea ice and the melting of glacial ice on continents to investigate the effects on sea level. In this activity, students will find that the contribution of water from the melting of sea ice has little or no effect on sea level whereas the addition of glacial melt water from continents results in an increase in sea level.

Thermal Expansion of Sea Water. PDF Word Document In this activity, students observe and measure the thermal expansion of water as a model for the increase in sea level due to the warming of the oceans.

Online Video and Media Resources

Annual Arctic Sea Ice Minimum 1979-2015 with Area Graph This website from the NASA Visualization Lab includes an animation of the loss of Arctic sea ice from 1980-2015.

Going UP: Sea Level Rise in San Francisco Bay This video from KQED QUEST examines the effects of rising sea level in the San Francisco Bay area.

Sea Level Rise Viewer This online tool permits the user to visualize community-level impacts from coastal flooding or sea level rise (up to 6 feet above average high tides). The user can pick a location and simulate areas that would be inundated at different levels of sea level rise.

NOAA Sea Level Trends This website from NOAA shows measurements and trends of sea level from tidal gauge data.

NASA Eartth Observatory This website contains great articles, imagery, and animations. The links below are to animated global maps illustrating weather phenomena.

Useful Websites

Climate Change: Global Sea Level This NOAA website provides an introduction to the science of rising sea levels.

National Oceanograpic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) This federal agency is focused on the conditions of the atmosphere and oceans. NOAA conducts reseearch and provides data on oceans, weather, climate, fisheries, and aviation.

NASA Sea Level Change Portal This NASA website is the main portal for research, tools and visualizations regarding sea level.

NASA Sea Level This NASA website provides an introduction to the science of rising sea level.

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems Things that people do to live comfortably can affect the world around them. But they can make choices that reduce their impacts on the land, water, air, and other living things. (K-ESS3-3)

Grade 4
ESS3.A: Natural Resources Energy and fuels that humans use are derived from natural sources, and their use affects the environment in multiple ways. Some resources are renewable over time, and others are not. (4-ESS3-1)

Grade 5
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes Nearly all of Earth's available water is in the ocean. Most fresh water is in glaciers or underground; only a tiny fraction is in streams, lakes, wetlands, and the atmosphere. (5-ESS2-2)

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems Human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space. But individuals and communities are doing things to help protect Earth's resources and environments. (5-ESS3-1)

Middle School
ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems
Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth's environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. (MS-ESS3-3)
Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise. (MS-ESS3-3), (MS-ESS3-4)

ESS3.D: Global Climate Change Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth's mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. (MS-ESS3-5)

High School
ESS2.C: The Roles of Water in Earth's Surface Processes The abundance of liquid water on Earth's surface and its unique combination of physical and chemical properties are central to the planet's dynamics. These properties include water's exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy, transmit sunlight, expand upon freezing, dissolve and transport materials, and lower the viscosities and melting points of rocks. (HS-ESS2-5)

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate
The foundation for Earth's global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy's re-radiation into space. (HS-ESS2-2), (HS-ESS2-4)
Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen. (HS-ESS2-6), (HS-ESS2-7)
Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate. (HS-ESS2-4), (HS-ESS2-6)

ESS2.D: Weather and Climate Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere. (secondary to HS-ESS3-6)

ESS3.D: Global Climate Change
Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts. (HS-ESS3-5)
Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities. (HS-ESS3-6)

Common Scientific Misconceptions

Rising sea levels are due to the melting of sea ice and the Arctic polar ice cap.

The greenhouse warming of our planet is only due to human activities.

Human-induced global change is a controversial theory among scientists.

The global Earth environment is stable relative to human time scales.


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