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Brief Description: Permafrost is permanently frozen ground that remains at 0°C or below for at least two consecutive years. It contains soil, rock and organic material, which didn’t decay, because it was frozen. Due to climate change permafrost is thawing more and more and organic material unfreezes and decomposes and releases greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In this activity, students find out why thawing permafrost accelerates the climate change and becomes dangerous for the Planet. They also do some calculations to compare potential carbon release from permafrost to anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide by their country.
How does the lesson relate to STEAM education: This activity uses science to inspire students’ interest on how the world works. It contains multidisciplinary concepts like climate change, feedback loops, combines Physics, Chemistry and Geography. It also combines Mathematics, as the main task is to do calculations to compare potential carbon release from permafrost to anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide. The last part of the activity provides a good opportunity for adding Arts into the mix.
Age Range: 12-16
Didactical Hours: 3 didactical hours of 45-min each (some experiments may require extra time outside classroom)
Learning objectives: The student will:
- understand what permafrost is, where it occurs and what it contains
- recall information about states of matter
- understand the difference between melting and thawing
- understand why thawing permafrost releases greenhouse gases to the atmosphere
- formulate a hypothesis about acceleration of the global warming based on the thawing permafrost positive feedback loop;
- understand how permafrost and climate are related
- compare potential carbon release from permafrost to anthropogenic production of carbon dioxide.
Connection to the Big Ideas of Science:
Particles > Structure and properties of matter > States of matter: Permafrost is a frozen ground. It thaws and doesn't melt!
Earth > Ecosystems > Cycles of matter and energy transfer in ecosystems: The permafrost carbon cycle (also known as the Arctic carbon cycle) is the transfer of carbon from permafrost soils to vegetation and microbes, then to atmosphere, then back to vegetation, and finally back to permafrost soils.
Earth > Earth materials and structure > Earth’s Atmosphere: As permafrost contains much carbon, thawing permafrost contributes to adding additional greenhouse gasses of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) to the atmosphere.
Earth > Earth materials and structure > Earth's materials and systems: There is twice as much carbon stored in the permafrost ecosystems in high latitudes than carbon currently contained in the atmosphere.
Earth > Earth materials and structure > Earth's surface (ocean and continents): Thawing permafrost affects the surface and may cause serious damage in infrastructure.
Earth > Earth’s climate > Human impact on Earth: Anthropogenic climate change accelerates thawing of permafrost, which accelerates the climate change. We call it a positive feedback loop.
Earth > Earth’s climate > Global climate change: When permafrost thaws, additional greenhouse gases (captured previously in the frozen ground) are being released to the atmosphere and contribute to intensification of climate change.
Earth > Earth’s climate > Weather and climate: When permafrost thaws, additional greenhouse gases (captured previously in the frozen ground) are being released to the atmosphere and contribute to intensification of climate change.
The Polar Star consortium is grateful for the input of the Polar Advisors, who helped to choose the polar topics. We would like to thank warmly Polar Advisors, who provided valuable ideas and materials for this particular activity: Stelios Anastassopoulos, Daniela Bunea, Svetla Mavrodieva, Spyros Meleetiadis, Nikolaos Nerantzis and Elena Vladescu.