Global Ups & Downs: Changing Sea Level (6-12)


This teaching box focuses on the concept that changes in sea level have occurred in the past, are occurring now, and will continue to occur.

The unit provides an inquiry-based exploration of the lines of evidence for periodic melting of ice and resulting sea level rise: glacial evidence, geologic evidence, fossil evidence, and isotopic evidence. Students learn about the worldwide effects of sea level changes in the past and then use a study on topography and sea level to demonstrate their understanding of impact of sea level change on flora, fauna, and human society.

From the menu at left you can access details about the supported concepts and standards, lessons with activities organized into teachable units, and a section describing the online resources used in the box for ready reference.

Goals of the teaching box

These activities have been presented in a way as to emphasize the process of science – how evidence is gathered and hypotheses are tested. Guided inquiry has been used throughout, and where possible, we have tried to replicate the discoveries of science that have led to our understanding of past, present, and future sea level change.

Appropriate for


Time requirements

Teachers can select a suite of lessons that best suits their classrooms.
The entire unit can be covered in as few as 18 class periods and could be expanded to as many as 22 class periods.

Student web page

To avoid having students type in lengthy URLs to access online resources, we have developed a student web page for this teaching box, entitled Global Ups and Downs. This page has direct links to each of the resources used within the lessons in this teaching box. We recommend that students bookmark this site for easy access.


Students should have a basic understanding of geologic time. Students can review this through the interactive online module: Geologic Time.
Students should be familiar with making and testing a hypothesis.

Technology requirements

Computers with Internet access
Quicktime software
Overhead projector
LCD projector recommended

Concepts and Standards

View concepts and standards associated with the lessons, (or use the Concepts and Standards link at left.)

Online resources

View a list of resources used in the lessons (or use the Online Resources link at left.)



Lesson 1. Introductory activity: Consequences of Global Warming
This consists of one activity in which students discuss the global warming controversy and explore its impacts, in particular that of melting ice.

Lesson 2. Experimenting with Ice Melt
This lesson consists of two activities.

  1. Experiment Design: Students design and conduct their own experiments to determine the differences in sea level change between the melting of sea ice and continental ice.
  2. Melting Sea and Continental Ice: Students conduct their experiments to test their hypotheses on the differences in sea level change between the melting of sea ice and continental ice.

Lesson 3. Glacial Evidence for Sea Level Change
This lesson consists of three activities.

  1. How Glaciers Shape the Land (Part 1): Students conduct a hands-on activity to discover the signatures of glacial activity.
  2. How Glaciers Shape the Land (Part 2): Students view a series of images on the web to discover how glacial signatures provide evidence that glaciers existed in areas no longer covered by ice.
  3. North American Glaciation: Students use web-based animations to investigate the results of the melting of continental ice in North America and they map the resulting changes in sea level

Lesson 4. Fossil Evidence for Sea Level Change
This lesson consists of six activities.

  1. Reefs, Limestone, and Sea Level Change: Students use a web-based exploration to investigate the formation and distribution of limestone reefs as evidence of changing sea level.
  2. What about Fossils?: Students use a web-based exploration to investigate how fossils are formed and what they can tell us about past conditions on Earth.
  3. Foraminifera and Changing Sea Level: Students learn what forams are and then conduct an activity that uses a real foram data set to study changing environments and ocean depths.
  4. Foraminifera and Climate Change: Students conduct an activity using forams to investigate changing ocean temperatures through time.
  5. Using Isotopes to Track Sea Level Change: Students explore the isotopic composition of forams to study past glaciations.
  6. Sea Level Change and Mass Extinctions: Students explore the evidence for mass extinctions in the past and examine the possible relationship with of changes in sea level.

Lesson 5. Impacts of Topography on Sea Level Change
This lesson consists of three activities.

  1. Exploring the Impact of Ice Melt on Shorelines: Students use web-based animations to explore the impacts of ice melt on sea level.
  2. Introduction to Topographic Maps: Students are introduced to topographic maps through a hands-on experiment.
  3. Mapping Shorelines: Students examine the relationship between topography and sea level change by mapping potential changing shorelines of Washington, D.C.

Lesson 6. Culminating Activity: Impacts of Sea Level Change
This consists of one activity in which students demonstrate their understanding of the concepts regarding sea level change. Students select a geographic area of interest and then project the changes and impacts brought about by rising sea level.

Authors of this teaching box

This box was created during the summer of 2005 as part of a pilot project by the following professionals from the San Francisco Bay area of California:

  • Lisé Whitfield
  • Bill McMillon
  • Judy Scotchmoor
  • Phil Stoffer


Contact DLESE support with questions or comments.

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