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Troubled waters

Learning objectives

  • To learn about the nature and extent of sea ice
  • To discover what it is like to live and work on the ice covered water
  • To understand the effect of climate change on the sea ice extent

Pole position - Fabled passage

A journey through the Northwest Passage outlining the history of the search for a sea route through to link Europe and Asia. It could be used on an interactive whiteboard to introduce some of the themes explored in more depth in the main activities of the section.

The concrete sea

Students could use the multimedia perhaps as a whole class exercise on an interactive whiteboard or individually or in small groups using the download to create a mind map or thought shower of words that could be used to describe the ice in the images. This could be compared to the words used by the indigenous people. They will get further information about Arctic sea ice when they press the 'next' button on the multimedia interactive

The first of the images is grease ice and the bottom one is pancake ice, students could discuss the appropriateness of these terms.

The NOAA's Observers' guide to sea ice could be used to look at different types of ice in more detail.

Do you think you could drink a glass of melted sea ice water? Answer -It is too salty, the brine in sea water gets trapped in the ice.

Polar expeditions use melted multiyear ice as a source of fresh water - why do you think multiyear ice is more potable than first year ice? Answer - the brine has had time to drain through the ice, and it's nearly all gone - so you can drink it!

Breaking the ice

The section looks at how vessels break up the ice to open up sea lanes during the summer months. The mechanics of this is described.

The interview with Captain Snider can be used as a stimulus for class discussion on what it might feel like to be on one of these ships and also as a stimulus for the activity at the end of the section.

The images of the Centre for Marine Simulation in Canada could be used to answer the question 'Why do the Captains of Ice Breakers need to use a simulator to develop their skills before they go into the Arctic Ocean?'

The following is an explanation of the colour coding on the map used in Accurate Information from Ivana Kubat, P.Eng, Project Engineer, NRC - Canadian Hydraulics Centre

The rule is that if the Ice Numeral (IN) is less than 0 (IN < 0) then a vessel for which the IN was calculated is not allowed to proceed through that region. If the IN is equal or higher than 0 then a vessel is allowed to proceed. While calculating the IN - if the ice is decayed then the Ice Multipliers used for calculating the IN are increased by 1, therefore the resulting value for IN is higher.  However, the Ice charts that were used in our analysis do not provide information on ice decay, therefore the Ice Multiplier was not increased and the resulting IN might be negative. There is no way to get historical information on ice decay for the whole region we analyzed, therefore we coloured those regions as yellow (-5 < IN < 0) indicating that shipping is possible with a great degree of caution. The same, in opposite way, applies to ridged ice (for 0<= IN <+5), i.e. if the ice in the ice regime is ridged then the Ice Multiplier is decreased by one and the resulting IN might in real be lower than that calculated based on the information from the ice chart. Therefore we coloured regions where IN is between 0 and +5 yellow to mark it as shipping possible with great degree of caution.

The need for accurate information could be discussed.

Polar patrol

Guidelines for ships operating in Polar waters (IMO pdf) for more info on guidelines already issued including suggested equipment.

IMO is developing a draft mandatory International Code of safety for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code), to cover the full range of design, construction, equipment, operational, training, search and rescue and environmental protection matters relevant to ships operating in the inhospitable waters surrounding the two poles. Shipping in polar waters | Development of an international code of safety for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code) gives a detailed description of the developments in 2014.

For the main points only, download Shipping in Polar waters.

Polar pitstop

This is a creative activity where students use the knowledge they have gained and information from the whole section to write TV news bulletins, they could be illustrated with images from the site

Teachers' notes

Notes on each chapter for information and tips on the activities in each section to help you plan how to use the site:


Home | 1: Climate change | 2: Living on the edge | 3: Arctic science | 4: Hunter or hunted? | 5: Postcard from the edge | 6: Troubled waters | 7: Resources from the edge | 8: Arctic Circumpolar Governance | 9: Snow, water, ice, permafrost | 10: Adapting to change

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