Saturday, November 27, 2010

Module VIII: Cryosphere Introduction

Essential Question: How are Arctic sea-ice, climate and culture all connected?

Explain: What new learning or reflections have you taken from this module?   
I had never heard the term cryosphere before taking this class so much of this week's information was new to me.  One fact that really surprised me was that 3/4 of the drinking water in the West comes from snow melt.  I'm not sure where I thought it came from as I know it's a dry environment but that figure was higher than I realized.  I wonder what that figure would be for the dry interior of our state.  We really noticed a difference in vegetation following low snow winters when I lived in the Denali Borough.  I'd love to see data showing snowfall in winter and then vegetation cover the following spring and summer.   

While I didn't find any data connecting snowfall and vegetation in Alaska this week, I did find several good resources to extend my own learning about the cryosphere.  One that I stumbled across is the Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception.  If you go to the Explore tab at the top of this page and then click Earth you'll find a lot of great links relevant to climate change and the Arctic.

This image is from the Ice Stories series on the Exploratorium website.   It is of Canadian scientists working with Innu Elders to learn more about local ecology.  The article is titled  Pairing Scientific and Traditional Knowledge.

The article from which the image above was taken echos the concerns in the Cultural Connections section of this week's module.  So does the video Will Global Warming Alter the Inupiaq Way of Life?  The image to the right is of Daniel Lum who shares a few observations of how climate change has affected hunting in Barrow, the effects this has had on traditional knowledge, and his concern that his children won't be able to "experience what he's known".

The State of the Cryosphere website from the National Snow and Ice Center has more good background information related to this week's module.  The images above are from this website and indicate articles about different forms of solid water, i.e. glaciers, sea ice and snow.  I didn't consider permafrost, frozen lakes or snow as being part of the cryosphere before this week's module.  For some reason, I thought of sea ice, icebergs and glaciers of the poles alone as being part of the cryosphere. 

Extend: How might you use these resources in your classroom and community?
We have a few cryosphere-related inquiry projects happening in our district.  The resources in this week's module would support building background knowledge for these.  Kids in Chenega Bay are doing an inquiry project about whether ground temperatures are warmer or colder in areas with more or less snow cover.  The kids are convinced that more snow cover will make the ground colder.  I'll definitely be sharing resources from this week's module with Chenega teachers.

In Valdez, I'm helping some students put together an inquiry project about snowfall.  They're noticing that the weather can be very different even a short way out of town, just five or ten miles up the road.  So, they're wondering if there's also a big difference in the amount of snowfall in different locations in Valdez.  I'd like to connect this inquiry to a boarder picture of the cryosphere's role in shaping the planet's climate.  Resources like Earth's Cryosphere: The Arctic would help with this.  Arctic Climate System also had great visuals showing how wind and ocean currents distribute heat around the planet.

I would love to later branch out into anthropogenic factors contributing to climate change.  I could use resources like the Earth's Albedo and Global Warming interactive.  The Sea Ice section gives a really good visual of what a 10% decrease in sea ice per decade looks like.   I'd also like to focus on using and analyzing data.  Students will be doing this with the data they collect in their snowfall inquiry, but I'd also like to do so in relation to climate change.  NOAA's Barrow, Alaska Observatory has some almost real time climate data from Barrow.  To the right is a graph showing atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements taken over decades.

Evaluate: How useful/relevant are this module's resources and information?
According to the TD video Earth's Cryosphere: The Arctic, the Bering Sea could be ice free in the summer by the end of this century.  According to Steve MacLean we could lose sea ice within 40-50 years in the Arctic.  If either situation is true then we certainly need to be more aware of how the cryosphere interacts with the hydrosphere and atmosphere to influence our climate.  The resources in this module are certainly valuable in raising this awareness.  Also, considering that we live in a place filled with frozen water, these resources will help students better understand their immediate environment, it's structure and the implications for them of the impending changes to it.

3 Colleagues' Blogs
Below are comments I posted on others' blogs this week:
Explore Alaska: I really enjoy your writing style and the way you connect each week's information to your personal observations.  It makes your blog an intriguing read.  Thanks for this week's links.  It's always helpful to have more ways to look at information. 

Indian Crk: Thanks for the link to the flame test.  I never considered that wiki links may have experiments to use in  class.  Anyway, that sounds like a really good one to engage students.  Please don't apologize for the book links; they're great. 

Eric Explores Alaska!: Thanks for the reference to Living Downstream.  I agree that it's a tragedy that people in Alaska are experiencing the negative effects of pollution being produced elsewhere.  Since I live a stone's throw from a refinery and the terminus the pipeline here in Valdez, I'm very concerned about pollution being produced right across the bay here.

I also loved your random observation about homework.


  1. Janet,
    Thanks for the link to the video "Will Global Warming Alter the Inupiaq Way of Life?" It's a very human presentation of how climate change effects us all. Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. I really like your idea for measuring temps and snow fall. This is a great way to get kids outside and looking at the world right under their feet. It is also a perfect inquiry project and way to show that what sometimes seems logical isn’t always so!

  3. Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception is a great resource. There are activities for just about every science unit you can think of. I also like the video Will Global Warming Alter the Inupiaq Way of Life? I might like to ise this in my final project. Thanks!