As a high school or undergraduate Geography, Environmental Sciences or Earth Sciences teacher, you can use this set of computer-based tools to teach about permafrost, the nature and distribution of permafrost in the Earth’s cryosphere, thawing of permafrost due to global warming which in turn, results in the release of a potent greenhouse gas methane; and therefore, the possible impacts of permafrost thawing on climate.
This lesson plan introduces the topic of permafrost and the observed thawing of permafrost in recent times due to rising global temperatures. A computer-based activity/model helps in exploring the possible impacts of permafrost thawing on the Earth’s climate. Thus, the use of this lesson plan allows you to integrate the teaching of a climate science topic with a core topic in Geography, Environmental Sciences or Earth Sciences.
This is a Teacher-submitted Lesson Plan.
Contributed by Dr. Vandna Luthra, Gargi College (University of Delhi), India.
Want to know more about how to contribute? Contact us.
Methane bubbles up from the thawed permafrost at the bottom of the thermokarst lake through the ice at its surface.
Credit: Katey Walter Anthony/ University of Alaska Fairbanks
About Lesson Plan
|Grade Level||High school, Undergraduate|
|Topic(s) in Discipline||
|50 – 60 min|
Use this lesson plan to help your students find answers to:.
- What is permafrost? Where is it found?
- What changes have been observed in permafrost characteristics in recent times?
- What is the active layer of the soil? How is it affected when permafrost thaws?
- Why is methane, a greenhouse gas, released into the atmosphere when permafrost thaws?
- What are the possible impacts of permafrost thawing on the Earth’s climate?
|A video that introduces permafrost and its distribution on Earth. The video also describes the changing nature of permafrost across several regions due to higher surface temperatures and the possible impact of permafrost thawing on Earth’s climate owing to the release of methane, a greenhouse gas.|
|Classroom/Laboratory activity for high school students
(30-45 min per activity)
|A set of hands-on classroom and computer-based activities to learn about permafrost and to explore various web-based scientific data portals to investigate permafrost distribution, characteristics of permafrost, and the effects of thawing permafrost on the atmosphere and the environment.
Note: The plan includes 3-4 activities; one or more of these activities can be conducted. The time required for each activity is specified in the summary table of the laboratory plan.
|Classroom/Laboratory activity for undergraduates
|A computer-based model/ simulation to observe and compare the changes in the concentration of methane in the global atmosphere when compared with normal trends (resulting from natural and anthropogenic emissions), when a sudden increase in methane (as an effect of thawing of permafrost) is introduced. The model/ simulation also enables students to observe the radiative forcing of methane when compared with that of carbon dioxide under similar conditions.|
Here is a step-by-step guide to using this lesson plan in the classroom/laboratory. We have suggested these steps as a possible plan of action. You may customize the lesson plan according to your preferences and requirements.
|1||Introduce the topic by playing a video and facilitating a discussion||1. Play the video “Thawing Permafrost” by NBC Learn, to introduce the topic of permafrost. Use the video to describe the characteristics of permafrost and its distribution across the globe. Then, discuss how permafrost is used to study soil conditions for periods dating back to several thousands of years by drilling boreholes and extracting ice cores for analyses.
2. Discuss how higher surface temperatures cause changes in permafrost conditions, leading to the thawing of permafrost in many regions. Further, describe how this thawing has led to local environmental perturbations such as sinkholes, landslides, increased vegetation, and an enhanced active-layer bacterial activity.
3. Finally, discuss how permafrost thawing can lead to the release of greenhouse gases such as methane to the atmosphere which can in turn, impact the Earth’s climate.
|2||Conduct a classroom/laboratory activity||For high school students:
1. Use the laboratory plan “Changing Planet: Permafrost Gas Leak”, developed by Missy Holzer, Jennifer Bergman, and Roberta Johnson, Windows to the Universe team members from the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA), to enable students to
· investigate permafrost characteristics
· understand borehole data and identify the trends in the data observed
· find a correlation between atmospheric methane data and permafrost thawing data
2. Follow the instructions provided in the plan to complete these laboratory activities. Each activity can be conducted separately. The relevant reading material and links for datasets and worksheets are given in the main text or in the table (under the “Materials” section).
For undergraduate students:
1. Use the model/simulation “METHANE in the Atmosphere” by Prof. David Archer, University of Chicago, to observe the methane concentration in the atmosphere under different hypothetical conditions and timescales.
2. Large-scale thawing of the Earth’s permafrost can lead to a sudden release of the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere. Go to http://climatemodels.uchicago.edu/methane/methane.doc.html. Then, click the “Overview” tab to read about the model.
3. Next, play the “Video Introduction” to understand how the model can be used to simulate sudden methane perturbations in the atmosphere. Observe the subsequent impact on its atmospheric concentration.
4. Now, run the model to
5. Use the data points generated to draw graphs representing different scenarios of methane perturbations. Use these representations to discuss the implications of methane release in the atmosphere due to the large-scale thawing of permafrost.