Polar Ice Caps: An Experiment

By Allison Krisch

When we talk about climate change, we often talk about the polar ice caps. Polar ice caps are large dome-shaped sheets of ice that are found on the North Pole and the South Pole of our planet. It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of Earth’s freshwater supply can be found in our polar ice caps. Scientists worry that climate change—particularly an increase in warmer weather at the poles—could cause large portions of our polar ice caps to melt.

Remember, water has three different states: solid, liquid, and gas. For water to become a solid, it must freeze. Water normally freezes around 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. If the temperature is above freezing, ice can begin to melt. The higher the temperature, the more likely ice will melt!

[color-box color=”blue”]ICE EXPERIMENT

You will need:

• Three cups of similar size
• Ice cubes
• Timer or clock
• A piece of paper and a pencil[/color-box]

For this experiment, think of your house as the earth. Each room in your house contains its own climate. For example, your kitchen might feel warmer than your bathroom, so the kitchen would have a warmer climate than the bathroom. Choose three different “climates” (or rooms) for the experiment.

If you know that one part of your house is much warmer or much colder than another room, choose that one!Ice Cubes

Take the ice out of your freezer. What does the ice first look like? What does the ice feel like?

For this experiment, the ice will represent the polar ice caps and each room will represent different climates on Earth. We will be testing to see which of our climates allows the ice to melt the fastest and which of our climates allows ice to melt the slowest.

Fill each cup with ice. Observe how much of the cup is filled with ice and how much space is left. Try to fill each cup with the same amount of ice. Once the cups are filled, place each cup in one of your selected climates (rooms). Make some predictions.

How long do you think it will take for each cup of ice to melt? Which climate will the ice melt in first? Using your piece of paper, write down your predictions so that you can check on them later.

Set the timer for 10 minutes. Once the timer buzzes, check on each of your cups of ice. How much of the ice has melted? How much more time do you think it will take for the ice in each cup to melt? Record your predictions and reset the timer. After another 10 minutes, check on the ice again. Repeat until all of the ice is melted.

Which cup of ice melted the fastest? Which cup of ice melted the slowest? Do you think that the climates of each room influenced how fast the ice melted?

Repeat the experiment using different rooms if possible! You could also try this experiment by placing one cup outside and one cup inside. Check the weather before you head outside. What is the temperature today? Is it above freezing or below freezing? Make a prediction about how you think this might affect how quickly the ice melts.

[color-box color=”blue”]CLIMATE VERSUS WEATHER

Polar Ice CapsIf you want to understand climate, you can start by learning about the weather that occurs where you live. Weather refers to a specific event that happens outside each day or over a period of several days. What does the weather look like today? Is it hot or is it cold? Is it sunny or is it cloudy? Is it raining or is it snowing? All of these events are weather.

Climate refers to the average weather conditions that occur in a specific place over many years. Here are a few characteristics of climate:

  • Climate describes the range of what you might expect in a given location—the limits of what the weather might be. In Philadelphia, it may be cold in March or it may be warm. It may be 25 degrees Fahrenheit or it may be 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But it will almost never be 0 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Fahrenheit in March.
  • Climate describes average weather. On any given day, it might be hot in Philadelphia and cool in Miami, but on most days, it’s hotter in Miami than it is in Philadelphia.
  • Climate describes long-term trends. If it’s cold for a few days, that’s weather. If it’s an ice age, that’s climate.
  • Climate change refers to changes in the average climate of an area over an extended period of time. The changes could include an increase in rain or snow, hotter days in the summer, or colder days in the winter.[/color-box]

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