20 year Arctic Trend

Image courtesy NASA

To connect the idea of the tilt and orbit of the earth (changing of seasons) with monthly snow/ice data from January 2008 to June 2008.
Grade Level: 3 – 5
Estimated Time for Completing Activity: One 45 minute class period.
Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will observe monthly Snow/Ice Data from January 2008 to June 2008
  • Students will evaluate changes in the snow/ice cover from January 2008 to June 2008 and compare to the tilt of the Earth and position in orbit (seasonal change)
  • Students will manipulate data sets from MyNASAData website
  • Knowledge that Earth’s axis is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun
  • Earth’s tilt causes seasons
  • Names of continents
National Standards:
  • Science Content: C Life Science
  • Science Content: E Science and Technology
  • Science Content: F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
  • Science Content: G History and Nature of Science
Virginia Standards of Learning:
  • Sci3.8: The student will investigate and understand basic patterns and cycles occurring in nature. Key concepts include patterns of natural events (day and night, seasonal changes, phases of the moon, and tides), and animal and plant life cycles.
  • Sci3.10: The student will investigate and understand that natural events and human influences can affect the survival of species. Key concepts include the interdependency of plants and animals, the effects of human activity on the quality of air, water, and habitat, the effects of fire, flood, disease, and erosion on organisms, and conservation and resource renewal.
  • Sci4.6: The student will investigate and understand how weather conditions and phenomena occur and can be predicted.
Lesson Links:

The seasons are caused as the Earth, tilted on its axis, travels in its orbit around the Sun each year. The hemisphere that is tilted towards the Sun is warmer because sunlight radiates more directly to the Earths surface. As a result, there is less scattering of the Suns radiation in the atmosphere. As a result, there is less scattering of the Sun’s radiation in the atmosphere.


1. Click on the Live Access Server link above.
2. Click on Choose dataset if you are not auto prompted with data set choices.
3. Under Select Data Set click on Snow
4. Then select Monthly Snow Ice Amount
5. Change the date to Time Jan 2008
6. Be sure to click ok Update Plot to see your updated plot.
7. Follow steps 1 through 8 again but change the time to Jun 2008
8. A second map should appear.


List one major change you observe when viewing both maps.

Using what you know about seasonal changes, draw a conclusion about what has happened between January 15, 2008 and June 15, 2008. Be sure to use specific words to express land masses.

Using the maps, describe evidence that Earth’s axis is tilted.


Open two new maps. Use the same date, but change the year. For example: I want to research September. In the time section, I will choose 15 September 1994, then my second map will be 15 September 2000. The date stays the same except for the year. You can choose any two years you are interested in.

Observe your two new maps closely. Are both maps exactly the same?

What changes do you notice?

What do you think caused the changes?

Lesson plan contributed by Becky Schnekser, MY NASA DATA Team

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