Brr! A polar climate

Use this learning sequence to explore climate variations in locations around the world. Learn about weather and climate, starting with where you live and next comparing the climates of places such as Alice Springs and Antarctica. Integrates the numeracy skills of measuring temperature in degrees Celsius, and interpreting graphs of climate data.

Setting the scene

Pack the suitcase

Find out students’ prior knowledge about weather and climate. Ask them what clothes they might need to pack if they were to visit certain places. Spin a globe of the Earth or refer to a world map and choose a site. See if they know about:

  • places that have a tropical climate (hot and humid all year round)
  • places that are arid (dry and hot all year round)
  • places that have a temperate climate (hot summers and cold winters)
  • polar climates (very cold all year round).

After class discussion, students select a place they would like to visit. They draw what they would wear, when they would visit and what they know about the place including its climate.

Weekly weather

To understand climate data students need to be familiar with maximum, minimum and average (mean) temperatures.

Measure and record weather data at regular intervals during the day over a week. Measure the air temperature in the shade. Note the standard use of ˚C to measure temperature. Highlight the lowest (minimum) and highest (maximum) daily temperatures. Relate the temperature to how they feel, for example at 12˚C would it feel cold, cool or warm? What is the coldest temperature for the week?

How cold is cold?

Antarctica is cold but how cold would it feel? To get a sense of temperature, investigate the temperature of the fridge and freezer. Draw an outline of a thermometer; mark in a scale including zero and below zero. Mark in predictions of the fridge, freezer and room temperature.

Compare predictions with actual measurements. Generally refrigerators are set at 3–4 ˚C and freezers about −18 ˚C. How cold would it be to live in a place with those temperatures?

Put ice cubes in a small bucket of cold water so that the ice cubes are not fully melted. Measure the water temperature. Have students feel the water by dipping their hand in the icy water.

Investigate the effect of wind chill by blowing air over their wet hand. What is the sensation (how it feels)? This can be done more effectively using an electric fan set at different speeds to demonstrate the effect of wind chill. (Ensure safety measures of not having the fan near water.)

Explore and research

What is the weather in Antarctica today?

Ask students to predict today’s temperature in Antarctica. Use a straw poll to tally predictions – for example those who think it will be: above 10˚C; between 0 and 10˚C; between 0 and −10˚C or less than −10˚C. Make list of predictions. Do the same for wind strength using light, moderate, strong or gale force.

Show the location of Australian scientific research stations Mawson, Davis and Casey [PDF] in Antarctica. These each have weather stations that provide real time weather data.

View the weather in Antarctica today. Compare the air temperature in Antarctica to the temperature where you live.

For each station, select WG (weather gauge) which provides a visual representation of temperature including sensation (how cold it feels), as well as wind direction and speed. NOTE: wind speed is shown in knots (the higher the knots the windier it is) 1 knot = 1.85 km/h so 20 knots is about 37 km/h).

Ask students to draw a picture showing what they are wearing today and add a description/ representation of the day’s weather conditions. Draw and compare what they would wear if they were on one of the Antarctic stations and describe the weather there.

Explain and share

How weather compares to climate

View the weather in Antarctica today.

Ask students to predict what they think the maximum temperature would be (we refer to as the average or mean) for each month. Draw a table and individually or as a class complete the table.

Ask students to compare the day’s weather with climate data for two sites in Antarctica, using the worksheet Climate data: Casey and Mawson [PDF].

Share ideas about the weather and climate in Antarctica.

Make the link to the location of the Antarctic stations and the imaginary line of the Antarctic Circle (Lat 66.5° S). Use a map or globe of the Earth to highlight the different climate zones on Earth. Show the position of the equator (Lat 0°), the imaginary line dividing the southern and northern hemispheres.

Elaborate and apply

Climate analysis: visiting other places

Locate Antarctica and Alice Springs on a map. Compare their location and climate zones.

Ask, ‘What would it be like to visit Antarctica and Alice Springs?’ Would you pack the same clothes? Why or why not?

After an initial discussion, brainstorm what might be similar and different about these two places. One approach is to draw a Venn diagram to show what they have in common and what is different.

Climate variation will be an aspect of discussion. Draw out reasons why they think the climates are different.

Provide climate data (temperature and rainfall) for both places – refer to the worksheets:

How does the data fit with their prediction about the climate of each location? How do they describe the climate of each location?

Numeracy: discuss reasons for showing temperature as a line graph and rainfall as a column graph (one is continuous data, the other is not).


Living in Antarctica

Introduce the task: imagine you are a chef working on a station in Antarctica for a whole year. You write emails or talk via video chat. Create some entries about what you might say at different times of the year. Include things such as when you go outside, what types of weather conditions you encounter, and how you have to dress.

To provide some insight into the working life of people in Antarctica, read through the 'people in Antarctica' section of the Australian Antarctic Division website.

Assessment ideas

At various points in the learning assess to what extent students:

  • use the terms weather and climate in the correct context
  • explain reasons for climate differences between places; including reference to climate zones
  • accurately describe the climate of Antarctica.