Science Concepts—Sea Level

Summary: One consequence of climate change is sea level rise. In order to determine whether global sea level is changing, scientists must be able to understand natural temporal and spatial sea level variability. In this topic guide, students will use online data to learn about how sea level is measured, and how to determine sea level trends. Students then use tidal data to demonstrate how storm events affect water levels.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Scientists measure water level to determine patterns and trends.
  2. Ocean water levels vary depending on scale and geographic location.
  3. Overall, global sea level is rising.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • MS-ESS3-2. Analyze and interpret data on natural hazards to forecast future catastrophic events and inform the development of technologies to mitigate their effects.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Access and interpret sea level data
  2. Describe the effects storms can have on local water levels
  3. Use online or collected data to describe water levels for an coastal area in Oregon

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Understanding Sea Level Using Real Data from Data in the Classroom
    • Level 1: Reading Sea Surface Height
    • Level 2: Finding the Mean
    • Level 3: Reading Tide Data
    • Level 4: Measuring Storm Effects
    • Level 5: Designing Your Own Investigation
  • Regional sea level trends – Visit Sea level maps and graphs from NOAA Tides and Currents to find out how sea level changes in the Pacific Northwest compare to other parts of the world.
  • Local Sea Level is measured by tide stations, which refer to the height of the water as measured along the coast relative to a specific point on land. Invite students to explore online water level data.
  • Visit a coastal or aquatic site to determine current and historic high water level based on:
    • available data sets (local, online, etc.)
    • historical photos (contact the local historical society)
    • landscape indicators (identifying plant communities, erosion effects, etc.)
    • proximity of human infrastructure
    • direct measure with a meter stick, repeat measurements over time if possible


  • Assessment questions are included in the Data in the Classroom lessons
  • Obtain or collect data and use it to characterize sea level trends for a particular location
  • How does measuring tide height patterns help managers forecast impacts of storm events?
  • What evidence exists to indicate that sea level is rising?