Sea ice from space – Investigating Arctic sea ice and its connection to climate

Brief description

In this set of three activities, students will investigate Arctic sea ice. First, they will perform a hands-on activity to find out what happens ‘when the ocean freezes’. Then, they will use satellite images to analyse the sea ice concentration and extent and how these parameters have changed in the last decades. They will learn where in the world it is possible to find sea ice and analyse up-to-date and long-term satellite data about sea ice concentration in the Arctic. This activity deals with one of the most important indicators scientists have to study climate change and its possible consequences.

Subject Geography, Science

Learning Objectives
  • Learn what sea ice is and where it can be found on Earth
  • Understand the importance of sea ice and its relation to Earth’s climate
  • Understand how human actions and physical processes interact to influence and change landscapes environments, and the climate
  • Use tools available on the internet to collect and analyse satellite data
  • Understand how Earth observation satellites can be used to characterise and monitor sea ice
Age range
13 – 17 years old
approximately 30 minutes per activity
Resource available in:
Activity 1: When the ocean freezes
In this activity, students will understand some properties of sea ice by comparing ice blocks made from freshwater and salt water. They will understanding what happens when salt water freezes and the importance of sea ice.
  • Student worksheet for each group
  • Two 250 ml jars or cups
  • Teaspoon
  • Tray
  • Measuring jar
  • Table salt
  • Food colouring
Activity 2: Sea ice today
In this activity, students will learn about the global distribution of sea ice. They will also analyse up-to-date satellite data about sea ice concentration in the Arctic.
Activity 3: Sea ice through the seasons
In this activity, students will discuss their expectations regarding seasonal changes in sea ice and analyse long-term data about sea ice extent. They will identify short and long-term trends that help to characterise and monitor sea ice. 

Did you know?

Sea level is a very sensitive index of climate change. In ice form, sea ice is already contributing its volume to the oceans. Thus when it melts it does not increase the volume of the oceans. However, melting sea ice changes ocean salinity, affecting ocean currents and therefore the global climate system. Melting land ice such as glaciers and ice caps, on the other hand, contribute to the volume of the ocean and rising sea levels. With a focus towards oceans, the Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite can measure and monitor changes in sea level. This information is essential to understanding our climate as well as the risks to coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea level.

Satellites observe the Earth

Satellites observe the Earth using a range of wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. Discover how we can build a more complete picture of Earth’s climate by sampling the electromagnetic spectrum at multiple wavelengths.

The Carbon Cycle

Brief description In this set of three activities, students will learn about the carbon cycle and use it to identify...

Climate Change Kit

Explore ESA’s interactive Climate Change Kit   The Climate Change from Space Kit is an interactive PDF that takes the reader through...