Science Concepts—Where the Land Meets the Sea

Summary: One consequence of climate change is sea level rise. In this topic guide, students learn how to read nautical charts that show where the sea meets the coast, the depth of coastal waters, and the coastal waterways that are used and mapped by people. They discover how charts are helpful tools for people who live and work at the coast, and think about how changes in sea level might affect the appearance of nautical charts in the future.

Concepts to teach:


  1. A nautical chart is a special kind of map that shows what is in, on and around water.
  2. Nautical charts help mariners navigate safely.
  3. Over time, rising sea level will require that changes be made to coastal nautical charts.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • 4-ESS2-2. Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Describe what a nautical chart is and what it is used for
  2. Read and identify simple features of a nautical chart
  3. Predict how an increase in sea level might change the appearance of a nautical chart

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Online Activity: Nautical Charts from NOAA Ocean Service Education
    • This multi-level interactive lesson can be explored together as a class, with breaks for students to find answers on their own.
    • Where are salt marshes located on the chart?
  • Obtain local nautical charts and practice identifying features, landmarks, water depth, marshes, etc.
  • Obtain local topographic maps to compare and contrast with the nautical charts.


  • Select and focus on a nautical chart and topographic map of a coastal area. Would a 12 inch increase in sea level change the appearance of these maps? Why or why not?