Melting Ice

Impacts—Melting Ice

Summary: One indicator of climate change is the increased melting of sea ice and glaciers on land. While many people hold a common misconception that the melting of sea ice will increase sea level, sea ice melting actually contributes very little to sea level rise. In contrast, melting land ice could contribute to sea level rise. In this activity, students conduct an experiment to demonstrate which masses of melting ice pose contribute most to sea level rise and why. Then they learn how the absence of ice promotes further melting through a positive feedback loop.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Increasing rates of melting ice on land and sea are an indicator of global climate change
  2. Melting land-based ice contributes to sea level rise, while melting sea ice does not
  3. Ice melt results in darker sea and land surfaces, which further absorb heat and cause a warming feedback loop

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • HS-ESS2-2. Analyze geoscience data to make the claim that one change to Earth’s surface can create feedbacks that cause changes to other Earth systems.
  • HS-ESS2-5. Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Describe the effects melting sea ice and land ice have (or do not have) on sea level.
  2. Demonstrate that ice is less dense than water.
  3. Demonstrate that ice displaces water equal to the mass of the ice.
  4. Describe the Albedo Climate Feedback Mechanism.

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Why do scientists track sea ice extent in the Arctic?
  • How will melting Arctic sea ice affect sea level?
  • How will melting glaciers and ice on Greenland and Antarctica affect sea level?
  • Discuss the implications the albedo feedback mechanism has on ice melt.