Understanding impacts and feedbacks of climate change in the Arctic

About this Learning Activity


•Climate change influences earth systems at multiple scales.


•What are the impacts and feedbacks of a changing climate observed across the Arctic?

•How do they compare to our observations?

NGSS themes addressed:

Practices- Developing models, communicating information, constructing explanations

Cross-cutting concepts- Stability and change; Patterns; Cause and effect; Scale, proportion, and quantity

Disciplinary core ideas- LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics, ESS2&3: Earth’s systems, Earth and Human Activity

Culturally-Responsive Curriculum Standards Addressed:

• A. Integrity of cultural knowledge that students brings with them

• B. Cultural knowledge as part of a living and constantly adapting system

• C2. Recognizes the depth of knowledge that is associated with the long inhabitation of a place;

• D. Fosters a complementary relationship across knowledge derived from diverse knowledge systems.

• E. Local knowledge and actions in a global context

Understanding impacts and feedbacks of climate change in the Arctic

Purpose: The goals of this activity are to 1) enhance students' understanding of the breadth of the documented impacts of climate change in the Arctic region and illustrate their interconnections and feedbacks, and 2) emphasize the connections between knowledge from personal observations and knowledge of climate change produced through western science and community observations.

Overview: Students work collaboratively to assemble the impacts of climate change in the Arctic region documented in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) into a concept map. Students illustrate the connections and feedbacks between the impacts as they take turns putting impacts up on the whiteboard. Students return to the patterns across the observations illustrated in the learning activity "Mapping personal observations of environmental change." They complete the other side of the T-chart now with the key impacts of climate change observed in the Arctic region from the ACIA and compare the similarities and differences in the observed impacts. Students discuss which of their observations may have been related to climate change, and which are not. Then they consider of climatic feedbacks from the Arctic region that might be influencing the changes that they have seen that they might not have considered before.

Advanced Preparation:

Assignment Instructions:

1. The instructor will hand out one Arctic Climate Impact Card to each student. Cards are downloadable for you to use in the future below. These impacts of a changing climate used in these cards were synthesized by hundreds of Arctic scientists, elders, and communities, and are taken from the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment summary document.

2. Read the summary statement on the card for your impact.

3. We will assemble a concept map showing the connections and feedbacks between the different climate change impacts that are observed in the Arctic. If you are unfamiliar with concept mapping, we have created a resource video for you below.

4. First, in small groups of 5 or 6, you will assemble a small concept map showing the relationships between each of the climate change impact cards. Each student will tape their card to the group chart paper in a place that makes sense to them, and draw lines that show to the linkages and feedback between their impact and other impacts already taped to the chart paper. These connections are illustrated with arrows, and the relationships are described using word. An example is provided in the photo to the right.

Begin with the cards that explain changes to the physical system, then continue building the concept map by adding cards with biological and social impacts written on them.

5. Groups will present their maps, and add them to a class concept map posted on the whiteboard. Each group will be challenged to draw arrows and label the connections between items on their concept map and the concept maps of other groups.

6. We will compare these trends across the Arctic with those that we have observed in our own communities using the t-chart we created in the "sharing our observations of change" activity.

7. As we learn more about these impacts throughout the course, we will continue to build the concept maps, adding new connections and feedbacks each day.

Lesson Resources:

Arctic Climate Impact Cards

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment full Executive Summary Report

This video may also be helpful to learn more about the causes of cliamte change and what we mean when we talk about "feedbacks" in science.

Lesson written by Dr. Katie Spellman, University of Alaska Fairbanks International Arctic Research Center, with helpful input from Elena Sparrow, Angela Larson, Kelly Kealy, and Javier Fochesatto. Funding for development of the Arctic and Earth SIGNs project materials is provided by NASA under Award No. NNX16AC52A. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is one of the projects within the NASA Science Mission Directorate's Science Activation to further enable NASA science experts and content into the learning environment more effectively and efficiently with learners of all ages.