The color of Earth's surface determines how much of the Sun's energy is reflected or absorbed, where lighter-colored surfaces are more reflective (higher albedo). In this Data Puzzle, students analyze authentic Arctic data to construct explanatory models for the following question, "How might the Arctic’s albedo be affected by the observed decline in sea ice?"
Why does this matter? Scientists know that lighter colored surfaces (e.g., white) have a higher albedo (more reflective) than darker colored surfaces (e.g., black) and predict that the decline in the light colored sea ice will cause the albedo of the Arctic to decrease as well. Scientists like Dr. Jen Kay (featured in this Data Puzzle) worry that if the albedo of the Arctic declines, energy that used to be reflected will be absorbed and lead to increased warming in the Arctic.
Context for Use
What Students Will Do
- Analyze and interpret Arctic albedo (energy) data to evaluate the effect of declining (change) sea ice on the Arctic system.
- Construct conceptual models to explain how declining sea ice is changing the Arctic’s albedo (energy).
- Part 1 (30 minutes) Eliciting Students' Ideas
Students work collaboratively to observe and explain an opening scenario related to snow blindness.
- Part 2 (50 minutes) Identifying Important Science Ideas
Students engage with an interactive reading to 1) identify similarities between the snow blindness scenario and the work of Dr. Jen Kay, an atmospheric scientist who studies the Arctic energy budget, and 2) make a prediction it relates to Jen Kay's research question, "How might the Arctic’s albedo be affected by the observed decline in sea ice?"
- Part 3 (40 minutes) Supporting On-Going Changes in Thinking
Students test their prediction about the impact of declining sea ice on the Arctic's albedo by analyzing sea ice extent and Arctic albedo datasets captured by instruments aboard NASA satellites.
- Part 4 (60 minutes) Explanatory Model Construction
Students reflect on evidence gathered during parts 1-3 and construct a final explanatory model for the question, "How might the Arctic’s albedo be affected by the observed decline in sea ice?"