Lesson Plan: Arctic Animals and a Changing Climate
Learn about the effects of a changing climate on the Arctic ecosystem and four of its well-known mammals: the polar bear, the walrus, the Arctic fox and the beluga whale.
Grades 5 through 8
A WARMER WORLD FOR ARCTIC ANIMALS
Watch it online at
Video length: 3 minutes, 25 seconds
What is climate change?
The term “climate change” refers to a change in the long-term average of a region’s weather events. Climate change is natural, and Earth’s climate has changed many times in its history. Concern about the current climate change, however, is due to the fact that Earth’s average surface temperature has risen more than 1 degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years. Such a rapid rate of change is unprecedented in the last 1,300 years. Carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, known as “greenhouse gases,” absorb heat and trap it in our atmosphere. Human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and the use of products such as chlorofluorocarbons, commonly known as CFCs, increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states in their Climate Change 2007 Synthesis Report that “there is very high confidence that the global average net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.”
How does climate change affect the Arctic and its wildlife?
An increased average temperature in the Arctic has dramatic results. Glaciers become thinner and retreat at a rapid pace. There is a reduction in sea ice cover and thickness. Patterns of rainfall and snowfall shift. All of these changes affect wildlife by disrupting migration patterns, introducing competition from other species spreading northward, and impacting the availability and accessibility of food.
What can we do?
We all have the ability to reduce the amount of energy we use and therefore reduce the amount of fossil fuels burned. Here are some ideas:
- Use less electricity. Turn off the lights when you leave a room. Turn off the television and computer when you are not using them. Unplug appliances that are not in use.
- Wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat.
- Walk, ride your bike or take the bus instead of driving.
- Plant trees. They absorb carbon dioxide.
- Limit consumption of goods. Everything we buy uses energy when manufactured and fuel when transported.
- Buy recycled products. They take less energy to produce than new products.
For more information on climate change, visit NASA’s Global Climate Change Web site at climate.jpl.nasa.gov.
Use a KWL Chart with your students to examine what they know about climate change, how it affects the Arctic and how it may affect animals in the Arctic.
Sea Ice Change
Use these images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center to examine with your students how the amount of Arctic ice varies from year to year.
What do your students notice about the extent of the sea ice in the past few years?
The video “A Warmer World for Arctic Animals” discusses four different mammals that live in the Arctic and how climate change may affect them. Distribute a copy of the Arctic Animals Video Worksheet to each student. While they are watching the video, have students write down the issues that each animal faces due to alterations in their ecosystem resulting from a changing climate. Afterward, have students share their answers.
POST-VIEWING DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- What in the video surprised you?
- Which animal in the video do you think is the most threatened by climate change and why?
- What kinds of studies could scientists do to learn more about the effects of climate change on these animals?
- Read this last sentence from the video narration: “With a greater understanding of how global warming changes the Arctic ecosystem, we can perhaps devise new conservation strategies that may mitigate the negative effects on these animals.” What do you think the word “mitigate” means?
- What can we do to mitigate the negative effects climate change is having on Arctic animals?
Are there questions your students still have about global warming or Arctic animals? After creating a list of questions, have the students choose one of the questions or an animal from the video to research further. They then report their findings to the class.
Visit a Zoo, an Aquarium or a Nature Center
Visit a zoo, an aquarium or a nature center to learn about the impacts of climate change on other ecosystems and animals. Are the issues other organisms face similar to those faced by animals in the Arctic?
Create an Informational Comic Strip
Have students choose one animal discussed in the Ocean Adventures video to feature in an informational comic strip. They can design a five- to eight-cell comic strip showing the threats the animal faces due to global warming. The last cell of the strip should alert readers to an action they can take to help avoid the scenario presented.
Taking It Home
As a class, brainstorm ways in which individuals and families could reduce energy consumption. Then have each student make a list of energy-saving strategies to post on his or her refrigerator at home. After implementing the ideas for a month, students can ask their parents to look at their next energy bill to see if the family’s energy consumption has decreased.
RELATED RESOURCES FROM JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU: OCEAN ADVENTURES
Climate Change and the Marine Environment
Learn about the impacts climate change could have on marine environments worldwide.
A Climate Conundrum (lesson plan)
In this lesson, students watch the Web video Hot Turtles to discover how climate change could alter turtle populations and then design a solution to help protect them.
Turtles Take the Heat
Read about the potential effects of a changing climate on turtles.
RESOURCES FROM PBS AND TEACHERS' DOMAIN
Polar Bears and Climate Change
In this video from the World Wildlife Fund, learn how rising temperatures in the southern Arctic could lead to polar bear extinction.
Explore the life that thrives in the Arctic region in this interactive activity adapted from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Global Warming: The Physics of the Greenhouse
This video segment adapted from Nova/Frontline examines the greenhouse effect, its role in keeping Earth habitable, and the industrial changes that have led to an increase in the planet’s average temperature.
Your Carbon Diet
Find out how much energy you use and ways to conserve in this interactive activity from the Nova/Frontline Web site.
Find many more Teachers’ Domain resources by typing keywords into the search box (for example, “arctic,” “global warming,” “climate change”) at www.teachersdomain.org.
All About Sea Ice
This Web site from the National Snow and Ice Data Center has information on sea ice and its role in our global climate, in human activities and in the life cycles of wildlife.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Arctic
Explore FAQs about the Arctic and its environment in this section of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Web site.
Climate Change Kids’ Site
This Web site from the Environmental Protection Agency explains climate change in student-friendly language.
Teachers’ Lounge: Resources for Teachers
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program created this Web site, which includes lesson plans, background information and other tools for teaching about the climate.
National Science Education Standards Grades 5-8 (at www.nap.edu)
- Life Science -- Content Standard F: Natural hazards
Ocean Literacy: Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts (at coexploration.org)
- Essential Principle #6: The ocean and humans are inextricably connected.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrea Swensrud is the KQED Education Network’s project supervisor for Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures. She has a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential and has taught and managed marine science education programs. KQED Education Network uses the power of KQED Public Broadcasting to inspire learning by providing projects for youth and curriculum materials and professional development for teachers, child-care providers and families.
Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures is produced by KQED Public Broadcasting and Ocean Futures Society. The corporate sponsor is The Dow Chemical Company. Additional major support comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Foundation, KQED Campaign for the Future, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.