Melting ice, rising sea

Aerial  map of a sheet of ice with a different coloured triangle of ice
Researchers call it the 'loose tooth', a 900 square km iceberg rifting from east Antarctica's largest ice shelf

Investigate the effect of climate change on the Antarctic icecap. Students can explore what could happen to coastal cities if sea levels rose by 50 metres.

Scientists speculate various effects of climate change on the Antarctic icecap. Most scientists (but not all) think that atmospheric warming will firstly cause the Antarctic icecap to actually increase in size for perhaps hundreds of years before it begins to melt. Others speculate that melting will begin sooner than this. Some scenarios envisage long-term changes in sea levels by as much as 50 metres or more.

  • To demonstrate the implications for coastal cities of changes in sea levels give the students a contour map of their city (or the nearest coastal city), including nearby sea floor contours. They should colour the map according to changing sea levels (blue for sea, brown for land).
  • To illustrate the effect of rising sea levels, students could take a large tray and create some low-lying land from plasticine at one end with a 'city' made out of Lego on top. They should then place a large piece of ice at the other end of the tray, with a few centimetres of water to represent the ocean between 'Antarctica' and their city, and place the tray in the sun. Ask them to write down what they think will happen and why, and to observe and record the depth of the 'ocean' and the size of the 'Antarctic icecap'. Read the media article, polar ice sheets melting even faster.
  • Have the students research and write a front page newspaper article on the worldwide effects of rising sea levels as the result of global warming. Half the class can write a 'balanced' account while the other half could write a sensational account. Students should set out their work in appropriate newspaper article format. (They could use a computer to layout the article and to insert photos or graphics.)

Further information

Sea-level changes: reducing the uncertainty is an article from the Australian Antarctic Magazine, 2002.

Getting into hot water – global warming and rising sea levels is an article from the Australian Academy of Science.

Sea level rise is also a useful article from the CSIRO.

This page was last modified on January 23, 2014.