Earth image

Big Idea

The present and future impacts of global climate change on human populations are unevenly distributed across the planet. As a consequence of a warming climate, sea levels are rising at a rate of more than 3 millimeters (mm) a year. Sea level rise will have increasingly serious consequences for human health and life quality, with coastal populations at risk for dislocation due to flooding.


The ocean's surface is not level, and sea levels change in response to changes in chemistry and temperature. Sophisticated satellite measurements are required for scientists to document current sea level rise. This module explores the evidence for sea level rise related to global climate change and the consequences for humanity, especially coastal-dwelling populations.

Standards Addressed


In this module, you will:

  1. Explore how a warming climate contributes to sea level rise.
  2. Examine how satellites collect sea level data.
  3. Analyze interactive data to understand the potential consequences of climate change on sea level in different parts of the world.

Background Information

Global sea level rose about 17 centimeters in the last century. Over the past decade, sea levels have risen at twice the rate of the preceding century. Currently, the rate of rise is a little more than 3 millimeters a year. There are two main factors responsible for sea level rise, and both are related to our warming climate: the melting of land-based glaciers and ice sheets, and the thermal expansion of the upper ocean caused by warming surface waters.

Keeping Notes

Set up a journal to take notes as you participate in this module. Your journal can be an online tool or offline notebook - whichever works for you and your learning style.


This professional development experience was funded by NASA's Global Climate Change Education initiative. This initiative is designed to improve the quality of the nation's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and enhance students' and teachers' literacy about global climate and Earth system change from elementary grades to lifelong learners.