Country under Threat – The prospects for life on small islands

Brief description

In this set of four activities pupils will learn about the causes and potential impacts of sea-level rise while developing core scientific skills. The activities introduce the context by using a case study and students will develop instructional writing skills. Practical activities exploring two of the main contributors to sea-level rise give opportunities to discuss how models are used in science. Pupils will use real satellite data to explore sea surface temperature, changes in average sea level and the relationship between them.

Subject Geography, Science, Earth Science

Learning Objectives
  • List some of the ways in which global warming is leading to sea-level rise
  • Create a set of instructions others can use to carry out an experiment
  • Relate the different parts of an experimental model to the real world
  • Analyse images to obtain data on the melting of ice
  • Explain why this happens using ideas about particles
  • Identify some problems that sea-level rise may cause
  • Use the Climate from Space web application to explore and compare sea surface temperature and changes to sea level
  • Explain the relationship between variables using scientific knowledge
Age range
8 – 11 years old
approximately 45 minutes per activity
Resource available in:
Activity 1: Country under threat
In this activity, pupils will listen to the story of two children in Kiribati to introduce the reasons why global sea levels are rising globally. Confident readers may be able to read the story themselves, perhaps in preparation for the lesson. In the classroom, you can use material from the related Climate from Space story to supplement the text. The story describes experiments carried out by the characters. Rewriting the descriptions as instructions provides an opportunity to develop literacy skills related to science and reinforce some aspects of the scientific method.
Activity 2: Melting Ice 
In this activity, students will  monitor the melting of ice. It provides an opportunity for them to make close observations which may include scale drawing or/and using squared paper to measure irregular areas. They may use a smartphone to model a satellite taking observations from orbit, or you may set this up as a parallel demonstration.
  • A plate with a rim or edge, or a small tray or bowl for each group
  • Three or four buttons or counters of different colours for each group
  • Play dough to fix the markers in place
  • An ice cube or lump of ice for each group
  • Classroom clock
  • A copy of Student worksheet 2 for each student
  • Smartphone or tablet (optional)
  • A stack of books or block of wood to support the phone if it is being used
  • Squared or/and graph paper (optional)
  • Acetate sheets printed with a grid (optional if using camera)
  • Access to presentation, image- or/and word-processing software (optional, if using camera)
  • Towels 
Activity 3: Warming Water
In this activity, students will perform an experiment illustrating the thermal expansion of water. This being a major cause of rising seas is mentioned in the story in Activity 1 and explored further in Activity 3.
  • 2 identical bottles with plastic lids for each group 
  • 2 transparent straws for each group
  • Food colouring or ink
  • A jug or large beaker for each group
  • Play dough or similar material – each group will need a piece about the size of
    a walnut
  • Heat source (a sunny windowsill, a reading lamp, a bowl of hot water)
  • Cloths to deal with spills
  • A tray for each group to work in (optional)
  • Marker pen and ruler (optional)
  • Student worksheet 3 – one copy per student
  • Chalk or tape to mark a box on the ground
Activity 4: Warm and cold seas
In this activity, students will use the Climate from Space web application to explore sea surface temperatures and sea level changes across the globe. Looking at both datasets together gives the students an opportunity to relate satellite data to experimental work on thermal expansion.

Did you know?

ESA satellites play an important role in monitoring climate change. Climate from Space ( is an online resource that uses illustrated stories to summarise some of the ways in which our planet is changing and highlight the work of ESA scientists.We can now use satellite sensors to measure sea level, along with many of the factors that are causing it to rise, including the thickness and extent of ice sheets, and the temperature of the ocean surface. Satellites can take frequent measurements across the whole world rather than periodic measurements in a few selected places. However, instruments on buoys, research ships and planes are still needed – scientists use readings from them to calibrate the satellite sensors and check that the data from them is reliable. 

Satellites observe the Earth

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Images from Space

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Learn about sea level

Learn how climate change is causing our seas to rise and how satellites have been measuring the height of the sea surface systematically since 1992.

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