Impacts—Melting Ice

Summary: One indicator of climate change is the increased melting of ice on sea and on land. Students view scientific data showing the extent of ice in the Arctic to see how the amounts have changed over time. They then conduct an experiment to find out how melting sea ice and melting land ice might have impacts on surrounding water levels.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Scientists measure sea ice mass and glacial ice mass to see patterns and changes over time
  2. Increasing rates of melting ice on land and sea are an indicator of global climate change
  3. Melting land-based ice contributes to sea level rise, while melting sea ice does not

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • 5-PS1-2. Measure and graph quantities to provide evidence that regardless of the type of change that occurs when heating, cooling, or mixing substances, the total weight of matter is conserved.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Learn that ice formations on land will cause a rise in sea level when they melt, whereas ice formations on water will not cause a significant rise in sea level when they melt.
  2. Demonstrate that ice is less dense than water.
  3. Demonstrate that ice displaces water equal to the mass of the ice.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • EPA’s Sea Level: On the Rise, part 2—Students create a model representing sea ice and land ice and measure the effects on the water level when the ice melts. This activity can be performed by student groups.
    • Weigh the water and ice in each container prior to the experiment. At the end of the experiment, pour out the water and re-weigh the water. The weight should be the same due to conservation of mass.
  • How has Arctic sea extent changed over past decades? Graphic visualizations show changes in sea ice cover.


  • How has sea ice extent in the Arctic changed over time?
  • How will melting Arctic sea ice affect sea level?
  • How could melting glaciers and ice on Greenland and Antarctica affect sea level?