The Energy Debate - Sea Level Rise

Written for PULSE by Christopher Martin
Edited By: Stephanie Nardei

Time: One class period

Arc Explorer should be downloaded onto the computer.
The GW DATA file should be saved onto the D or C of a PC computer,

Arc View 3 or 9 could be used.
Materials: --

Global warming will cause the eventual melting of the ice caps in Antarctica and the Arctic. This will cause sea level rises of 10 meters, 30 meters and finally 60 meters.

Students will be able to:

  1. Understand the impact of global warming on our coastal cities.
  2. Appreciate how geographic information systems can be used to represent scientific data.

National Science Education Standard
Strand 1: Inquiry Process
Concept 3:  Analysis, Conclusions, and Refinements
Evaluate experimental design, analyze data to explain results and propose further investigations. 
Design models.

Teacher Background
Coal, oil and gas are fossil fuels. They were formed from fossilized plant and animal remains. Most of the energy we use is produced by burning fossil fuels. When coal, oil and gas are burnt, they react with oxygen to form water and carbon dioxide. The percentage of carbon dioxide in the air is increasing, and with more carbon dioxide our atmosphere acts as a greenhouse, retaining heat that would otherwise reflect into space. The observed increases in global temperatures, from Antarctica to Canada is known as global warning. Global warming will cause sea level rises of up to 60 meters as the ice caps melt.

Related and Resource Websites



  1. Ask the students what would happen to the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica as global temperatures rise. They melt, right? What will happen to the sea level? How will this affect people living near the coast?
  2. Tell the students that it is predicted that as the global temperatures increase and the ice caps melt, the sea levels will rise by 10 meters, 30 meters and finally 60 meters. They will use Geographic Information systems to map the affect that these sea level changes will have.
  3. Students should be directed to computers where arc explorer (or arc view 3 or 9) has been installed and the GW DATA has been saved on the C or D drive (on pc computers).
  4. Give the students the mapping instruction sheet “Global warming GIS project” and ask them to find five cities and their populations, that will be flooded as the sea level rises by 10m, 30m and 60m.

Global Warming GIS project

  1. Log on to the computer
  2. Click the start button
  3. Go to the programs folder
  4. Click to open Arc Explorer
  5. Select the “with a new view” setting.
  6. Click OK
  7. When the “add data” prompt appears hit yes
  8. Navigate to where the GW DATA file has been saved (C or D drive on a pc computer)
  9. In the right hand column scroll down to the “gw_data” folder
  10. Double click the “gw_data” folder
  11. Hold down the shift key and select  everything in the left hand column
  12. Click OK
  13. Maximize the screen by hitting the full screen button
  14. In the theme box on the left hand side of the screen you will see the states.shp theme, drag and drop it just above the cntry.shp theme
  15. Drag and drop the citypop.shp theme at the top of the column
  16. Check the cntry.shp theme check box, the states.shp theme check box and the citypop.shp theme check box. These themes should remain checked for the remainder of the project.
  17. Check the SL10meter.shp theme check box. This will show the areas that will be flooded if the sea level rises 10 meters.
  18. Activate the zoom in cursor by clicking the zoom in icon on the toolbar. (Magnifying glass with + symbol)
  19. Create a box around the United States by clicking on Alaska and dragging the cursor down to Brazil.
  20. Select the citypop.shp theme by clicking on its text
  21. Select the information cursor, by clicking the lowercase “i” surrounded by a black circle icon on the toolbar.
  22. By clicking on the colored square next to the theme and going to theme properties, it is possible to change the color of the theme. You can personalize the map with different colors.
  23. Click on one of the cities within the 10 meter flood zone.
  24. Write down the name of the city and its population
  25. Repeat steps 24 and 25 four more times.
  26. When you have recorded the names and populations of 5 cities within the 10 meter flood zone select the SL30meter.shp theme check box. This will show the areas that will be flooded if the sea level rises 30 meters.
  27. Repeat steps 22 through 26 with the Sl30 meter theme check box checked. Do not use the same city twice.
  28. You may use the hand cursor to drag the map to other parts of the world or the zoom cursor to change the zoom.
  29. When you have the names and populations of 5 cities within the 30 meter flood zone recorded check the SL60meter.shp check box.
  30. Repeat steps 22 through 26 with the Sl60meter.shp theme check box checked.

Not Applicable.

Embedded Assessment
Although expertise with arc explorer is not expected, it is expected that students will be able to list the cities and their populations that will be affected by the sea level changes. There are other data files available for more advanced students to explore.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: March 7, 2007
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