Sea Level Rise Citizen Science with the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History

The curved arm of Cape Cod jutting out into the Atlantic with 560 miles of beautiful coastline hints at the Cape’s glacial beginnings and its vulnerability to sea levels, now rising as a direct result of climate change. A disappearing island, a lost clam shack and a Beluga whale found in landlocked Vermont were all featured in a recent professional development program on Sea Level Rise from the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History when the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History (CCMNH) partnered with the Museum of Science’s NOAA Climate Hazard initiative, the Brewster Department of Natural Resources, the Wade Institute for Science Education and SciStarter to introduce middle grade teachers to the causes and consequences of sea level rise.

Engagement with the Picture Post project. (Credit: Cape Cod Museum of Natural History)

Sea Level Rise and Citizen Science

Focusing on sea level rise is one way to begin to approach and understand a complex topic like climate change. In the workshop teachers practiced with tools they could use with their students to investigate how climate change influences ocean mass and volume, which together contribute to sea level rise. Teachers built their own models to investigate the differences between melting land ice and melting sea ice and used a simple water bottle demonstration to explore the thermal expansion of ocean water.

Teachers also learned how a tool like Picture Post can help resiliency planners leverage participation of citizen scientists to help document environmental changes. As joint stewards of 400 acres of land abutting Cape Cod Bay, the Brewster Department of Natural Resources and CCMNH collaborated to install two Picture Posts on Wing Island beach. Signage encouraged the thousands of visitors who enjoy hiking the beach trail to become citizen scientists by taking photos from the Picture Posts with their cell phones, helping to document changes to the fragile beach.

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History’s west Picture Post. (Credit: Cape Cod Museum of Natural History)

Resiliency Planning Through Forums

Addressing the complex issues of climate change is exceedingly challenging. In the workshop, teachers used the Climate Hazard Resiliency Forum: Sea Level Rise which models resiliency planning among diverse constituencies in the fictional community of Kingtown, to discuss options for community responses to sea level rise. These tools are available to teachers to adapt for use in their classrooms. Remarked one teacher: “I really enjoyed the virtual forum for Kingtown. I think for myself and students it is fun to take on a role and it is helpful to have students address issues from multiple points of view.”
To provide authentic learning experiences for their students, teachers were introduced to SciStarter projects like ISeeChange, MyCoast and iNaturalist. These projects empower students to make real contributions to climate and environmental science. One participant commented “I really liked learning about citizen science. I have always wanted to incorporate that more into my classes and was unsure where to start. I think the ISeeChange app could have good uses for my curriculum.” Another teacher mentioned looking forward to using citizen science as part of instruction, and “was also hoping it might be a good way to engage families.” With thousands of projects available, SciStarter can help teachers and students explore diverse topics such as astronomy, biology and climate change while making actual scientific contributions. Get started on our SciStarter page today!

The Climate Hazard Resilience Forum was developed in partnership with Arizona State University and Northeastern University and supported by a NOAA Environmental Literacy Grant, with materials created by the Museum of Science, Boston under the awards NA15SEC0080005 and NA18SEC0080008 from the Environmental Literacy Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations within are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the supporters listed.

Categories: Citizen Science, Ecology & Environment, Ocean & Water


About the Author

Peg LeGendre

Peg LeGendre

Peg LeGendre, Ed.D. is a Trustee of Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster, MA.