CLIMATE CHANGE PLACES ITS IMPRINT ON SOME OF THE MOST REMOTE PLACES IN THE WORLD. THESE INCLUDE TWO IMMENSE STORES OF WATER ON THE PLANET THAT STUDENTS MAY NOT RECOGNIZE AS PART OF THE CLIMATE SYSTEM. One is the oceans, covering two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. Our oceans are becoming more acidic and warmer. Sea levels are rising, although not equally, around the world. The second store of water includes vast tracts of ice and snow in the polar regions, along with glaciers at high altitudes. Simply put, these are disappearing.
The limits of the oceans as sinks
What is this
Below are two versions of a diagram from the IPCC that shows how the proportion of carbon dioxide absorbed by our oceans will decrease over time. The first is a simplified one that can be used in a teaching setting, the one below that is the original figure from the IPCC with more information embedded in it.
How this might help students
Students need to step back periodically and see more of the big picture of climate disruptions. One thing that some students ask is “Is there a limit to how much different sinks can absorb?” The answer is that the oceans are saving us by absorbing enormous amounts of airborne carbon dioxide—and that we’ll end up paying a price for this. Under higher emission scenarios in the near future, the oceans will become more saturated with greenhouse gases. They won’t cease to absorb these gases but they will do so in lesser amounts over time. The land, as an alternative sink, has few mechanisms to absorb the increased emissions, and so you can guess where the excess will go (or stay)—in our atmosphere. This might be a topic of study for young adolescents; it could be coupled with a study of geoengineering; the different ways humans might design ways to interfere with the greenhouse effect or to help the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide.
Below is the original IPCC figure with more information
Figure SMP.7 Cumulative Anthropogenic emissions taken up by land and ocean sinks.
Ocean and cryosphere resources that have been helpful for teachers
The Value of Explanation: Using Values and Causal Explanations to Reframe Climate and Ocean Change. This report shares various strategies for communicating about climate and ocean change. Specifically, it discusses the effects of using certain ways of framing discussions (like referring to the protection of our oceans, responsible stewardship) on people’s attitudes and opinions towards climate and ocean change, and on their support for the policy solutions recommended by experts from these fields. These studies were done with the public but may have implications for working with school-age children.
The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate: A Summary for Teachers. This says it all. Highly readable at about 30 pages. Includes helpful diagrams and data. Tells you everything you have to know to start developing or modifying units. Shares a lot about glaciers, sea ice, the polar regions; also how they interact with the ocean. By the European Office for Climate Education.
A report by the same organization with just the oceans featured; written as a workshop. Workshop: Ocean and Climate Change.
Here is the more comprehensive version of the article described above—The Climate in Our Hands: Ocean and Cryosphere. The last part of it has many suggestions for lessons on both the science and on social justice dimensions of our changing oceans and cryosphere.