Changing Landscape


Changing Landscape asks students to analyze “repeat photographs” (taken from the same vantage point at different times) of Alaska glaciers to observe the effects of retreating glaciers on the landscape.

Activity Type
Hands-On, Multimedia


Class Time
2 class periods

Grade 8


Focus Question

  • What changes occur in a landscape when a glacier melts and recedes?

Enduring Questions

  • Climate patterns cause physical changes in the environment.
  • Physical changes in the environment can change the conditions for life.
  • Science and technology can be used to detect and solve problems.


20-30 minutes

Review with students the previous activities regarding sea ice. Ask students to think about land ice-glaciers. Offer the opportunity for them to share what they might know about glaciers. Review how glaciers are formed, and how they move. Ask students if they know where the most glacier ice is located in the world. (Most glacier ice is in two places – Greenland and Antarctica. Alaska’s glaciers only make up a small percentage of the world’s glacier ice).
Students should be familiar with the terms “advance” and “retreat.”

Choose one or more of the following sites to share and discuss with students. Choose sites according to your students’ level of ability to read and understand the information.

A nice explanation and photos of glacier topics can be found at Teachers Domain

NOVA Science Now: Video of a moving Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland

How Glaciers Move. Alaska Science Forum, Article #145

Journey to Alaska’s Glaciers: WebQuest to Explore How Glaciers Shape the Land

Exploration & Explanation

30 minutes

Explain to students that they will analyze a variety of glacier photos to observe changes in landscape over time.

You may choose to use photos from these Alaska glacier photos , the five Alaska glaciers illustrated on the Teacher’s Domain site, or choose your own from the National Snow and Ice Data Center Repeat Photography of Glaciers.

Several copies of each photo set may be printed. Students may exchange photos once they have completed their observations.

You may choose to have students work individually or in pairs. Provide at least one glacier photo set to each student, along with a glacier photo comparison worksheet. This worksheet is a Venn diagram. Explain that students should complete the section at the top, then list the common features of each photo in the middle, and note the differences in each of corresponding sections. Finally, they should note the major changes at the bottom of the page.


30-40 minutes
  • When all students have finished analyzing their photos, ask them to share their observations and predict what might happen in the next 50 years if the glacier continues to recede. Make a list of the major changes between the two photos noted by each student or pair of students.
  • Place the list where it will be visible to the entire class.


10-15 minutes

Ask students to look carefully at their data sheets, and read the changes they observed for each of the glaciers. Have them answer the following in their science notebooks:

  • What seems to be the most common change to occur in the landscape when a glacier recedes?
  • How might these changes have affected the living things in the area?


10 minutes

Formative assessment: walk around and listen as students describe their observations to each other.

Teacher Needs

Teacher Prep

About 2 hours to read materials, gather supplies, and prepare student materials.

Materials List

  • Dice (1 per game board), game markers, sticky notes
  • Internet access, Glacier Game Board #1 or Glacier Game Board #2

Student Needs

Prior Knowledge

Knowledge of effect of melting sea ice (from Investigation 1), experience or instruction in concept mapping


ablation, advance, aspect, copepod, crevasse, equilibrium, euphotic, firn, isostatic rebound, recede, retreat, terminus, transparency, turbidity


Science GLEs Addressed

  • 6th Grade: SA1.1, SA1.2, SA3.1, SB1.1, SB3.1, SC1.2, SC3.2, SD2.3, SE2.1, SE2.2
  • 7th Grade: SA1.1, SA1.2, SA3.1, SB1.1, SE2.2
  • 8th Grade: SA1.1, SA1.2, SA2.1, SE 2.2, SE3.1

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