The UK Polar Network (UKPN) members for the very first time conducted an education and outreach event at the University of Leeds as a part of the Leeds Science festival on the 21st of March, 2016. We conducted an exciting 1 day workshop titled ‘Pole to Pole: Life at the ends of the Earth’ for school students aged 12-15 years.
The workshop was divided into two sessions of 2 hour slots each. Small scale experiments were set-up in order to educate and create awareness on various aspects of climate change in the polar regions such as ocean acidification, sea level rise and the changing albedo. In each of these aspects, the vulnerability of the polar regions to increased emissions of carbon dioxide, industrial pollution, deforestation etc. was stressed on.
Students were first introduced through a continental jigsaw puzzle to the similarities and differences between the Arctic and Antarctic with regard to ocean/wind circulation, temperature, sea ice extent, flora and fauna. This set a good backdrop for the rest of the cool scientific experiments that were to follow!
Once the students were aware of terms such as ice sheets, glaciers, difference between land ice and sea ice, they were run through with a sea level rise experiment. Here they placed ice on a rock (representing land ice) and ice floating in water (representing sea ice) in two separate tubs. Both the tubs were filled with water and ice was melted using a hair dryer. The students were then asked to guess which tub would show a rise in the water level and also the reasons for it. Herein sea level rise was brought into the picture and the impacts of such melting on especially coastal inhabitants discussed. Second part of the experiment was based on thermal expansion using a tube filled with blue liquid placed in a tub with boiling water. The rise of the blue liquid in the tube was used to explain that as water temperature rises, it expands, also contributing to sea level rise.
In sync with the above experiment was the concept of albedo. Students recorded the difference in temperatures between a white and black tile heated by a light bulb. They also measured reflectance of different ‘land types’ – open ocean, snow, sea ice, forest etc. and were asked to place the albedo of these in an increasing or decreasing order. The students were enthused to learn of these differences which led to interesting discussions on the effects of changing albedo in the polar regions on sea level rise and the vicious positive feedback that it sets into motion.
To show one of the major and increasing impacts of climate change, an experiment on ocean acidification was also conducted. Students used vinegar on sea shells to see the corrosive effect of acid on marine organisms. They also tested using a pH indicator and by blowing into beakers containing warm water and ice cold water, the higher solubility of carbon dioxide in the ice cold water and thus the change in acidity. Students were encouraged to seek answers to these observations and come up with a hypothesis to explain this phenomenon. Ocean acidification especially in the polar regions was thus explained and the experiment on sea shells made them realize some of the harmful effects of ocean acidification.
What really intrigued the interest of the students at the end of the workshop was the introduction to heavy polar clothing worn by researchers in the Arctic and Antarctic! Volunteers from among the students were picked up and dressed for the audience to see. This led to several interesting questions on survival in such extreme conditions and the UKPN members shared their memorable experiences of having worked in these harsh conditions with the students.
The aim of the session was thus to educate the students on polar regions and most importantly create an interest in the scientific activities conducted by researchers worldwide at these remote locations. It was thus a day well spent both for the students and UKPN members as the students left more enthused and it served as a great interactive learning experience for the members as well!
–Written by UKPN Treasurer Archana Dayal