University of Illinois Extension
Environmental Awareness: Knowing Your World

Will Melting Ice Caps Raise Sea Level?

In Antarctica (where the South Pole is), most of the ice sits on land. In the Arctic (where the North Pole is), the ice floats on water. If Earth's average temperature increases and the ice caps start melting, which one would be more responsible for raising sea levels?


  • Two clear bowls
  • Ice cubes
  • Ruler
  • Piece of wood that will sit on top of one of the bowls


Related Activity

Fill each bowl halfway with water. In one bowl, add six ice cubes. Measure the height of the water. This will represent the Arctic ice cap melting. Measure the height of water in the other bowl. Place the wood on top of the bowl, and place six cubes on the wood, so that meltwater will fall into the bowl. This will represent the Antarctic ice cap melting. Once the ice has melted, measure the height of water in each bowl.

Which bowl had a rise in water level? Did one bowl stay at the same level or go down?

Remember that when water freezes, it expands. This means that ice will take up more space than liquid water. Ice in the water should take up more space than when it melts. Ice floating on water, like in the Arctic, will not raise water levels. Ice on land, as it is in Antarctica, will raise water levels, because as it melts, it will flow into the surrounding ocean. There is so much water tied up in Antarctica that melting even a portion of it would raise sea levels worldwide.


En Español

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