Explore! Earth's Climate

On the Rise


In this 60-minute interactive demonstration, children ages 8 to 13 use ice blocks and heat lamps to model what will happen to coastlines around the world as glaciers melt. They explore why glaciers are melting as a consequence of global warming and how human activity has added to the amount of warming. Catching a Heat Wave or Balancing Act may be incorporated into this activity.

What's the Point?

  • Warming global temperatures cause ice to melt.
  • When ice that is located above the sea melts, the water is added to the sea, and sea levels rise, flooding the coastline.
  • Approximately three and a half billion people in the world — two-thirds of the global population — live near the coastlines in the world. Over half of Americans live in coastal communities along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Gulf Coast, and Great Lakes.
  • Human actions impact the global environment and the ecosystems it supports.


For the group:

  • 1 (10-gallon) rectangular fish tank
  • 3 (~9" x 3" x 3") bricks of green floral wet foam (wet foam, not Styrofoam); other non-floating, non-porous, non-water soluble materials, such as bricks or rocks (be careful with the glass!), can be substituted
  • 1 heat lamp with a 250-watt bulb
  • Access to an electrical outlet
  • Duct tape
  • 1 (5" x 8" x 3" or larger) plastic container
  • Access to water to partially fill the tank and the container
  • Access to a freezer
  • Permanent dark marker
  • Materials for the interim activity, either Catching a Heat Wave or Balancing Act

For the facilitator:


  • Create a block of ice by filling the plastic container ¾ of the way full with water and freezing it overnight. (Remove the block from the plastic for the experiment.)
  • Set up the tank.
  • Cut one piece of foam diagonally along its length so that it forms a long triangle.
  • Saturate the wet foam to give it weight and place it at one end of the tank so that two blocks are side by side and one of the triangles slopes down toward the base of the tank. This represents land.
  • Add sufficient water to the tank so that the water level is about an inch below the top of the foam.
  • Using the duct tape, secure the heat lamp to the tank so that the bulb will shine down onto the "land," leaving enough space for the block of ice to rest on the land.
  • Stabilize the heat lamp with the duct tape so that there is no chance that it will fall into the tank.
Heat Lamp


  1. Introduce the activity by exploring the relationship the children have with the coast.
    • What is a coastline? An area that is next to an ocean, like the Atlantic Ocean, or bodies of water like the Great Lakes.
    • How far do you live from the coastline?
    • Have you visited the ocean? Were there lots of people living there? Were there businesses there?
    Our coastlines are important! Many people live and work there. Two-thirds of our Earth's population — about three and a half billion people in the world — live near the coastline. More than half of the people in the United States live in coastal communities along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Gulf Coast, and Great Lakes.
    • What might happen to these communities, and to the land around them, if the ocean level rises?
    • What could cause the ocean level to rise?
  2. Present the aquarium model to the children.
    • What does the model represent? The ocean and land. The heat lamp is the Sun.
  3. Share the ice block with the children. Place the ice block in the tank on the land.
    • What does the ice represent? A glacier, or ice on Earth.
    • What do the children think will happen to the ice when the heat lamp is turned on? The ice will melt.
    • What will happen to the water level? The children's answers will vary.
  4. Invite one of the children to carefully place a mark on the tank where the water level is. Have another child carefully mark on the foam where the water level is. Have a few other children verify that the marks are correctly placed.
  5. Turn on the heat lamp and let the experiment run for 30 or more minutes.
  6. Share with the children that our ice is melting all across the world. Each winter, less sea ice forms on the Arctic Ocean and it melts earlier in the spring. Glaciers in the mountains of New Zealand and Canada and Alaska are melting back. Glaciers in Glacier National Park are melting ... we may need to rename the park one day!
    • Why do they think Earth's ice is melting? What would cause melting? Temperatures are rising.
  7. Facilitate an activity to demonstrate that carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere are rising, in part due to human activities, and is causing global temperatures to rise.
    Balancing Act (for ages 8 to 13)
    Catching a Heat Wave (for ages 10 to 13)
  8. Return to the aquarium experiment.
    • What do the children observe about the ice mass? It has melted a bit.
    • What do they observe about the water level in the aquarium? It has gone up.
    • What do they observe about the shoreline? It has moved landward; some of the land has flooded.
    • What might happen to coastlines — and cities and towns along those coastlines — around the world if our glaciers and ice sheets melt? The water level will go up and the coastlines will be flooded. Cities that are on the coastline will also flood.
    • What will the people along the coastlines do? They will have to move inland.


Reiterate that our global temperatures are rising, at least in part due to our addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. These higher temperatures are causing glaciers and ice sheets on Earth to melt. The water from this melting will cause sea levels to increase, impacting people — and other organisms — who live in these coastal regions.

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