Polar Science

Polar regions are some of the most rapidly changing areas on Earth. Arctic and Antarctic climates interact with and influence climate all over the world. Join CU-Boulder researchers in the field and in the lab as they study the poles' dramatic transformations, and learn more about the effect those changes have on the rest of the planet.

Follow CU-Boulder Scientists in the Field on a Polar Expedition

Request a Visiting Scientist

Alex Mass – The Last Degrees

Learn about what life is like "on the ice", with Alex Mass, a graduate student in Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado. Follow her to the highest latitudes and lowest temperatures on earth, from the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica to an Antarctic Icebreaker. Alex also helps administer a STEM outreach program, learn more.

Andrew Slater – 2ODIAC

Join Andrew and a team of scientists in Antarctica on the 2-season Ozone Depletion and Interaction with Aerosols Campaign (2ODIAC). The 2ODIAC, pronounced "Zodiac" campaign hopes to find out how the tiny particles in the atmosphere (called aerosols) make it to the most remote places on earth, and end up in ice cores.

Mike MacFerrin – Under the Surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet

Follow Mike and the FirnCover team as they embark on a six-week snowmobile and airplane traverse across the Greenland ice sheet each Spring before the melt season begins. The team is installing a network of instruments and taking samples to learn how Greenland's snow and subsurface firn (firn is granular snow, usually found on the upper part of a glacier, that has not yet been compressed into ice) are responding to a rapidly changing climate.


NSIDC: The National Snow & Ice Data Center

CU-Boulder is home to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, a national repository for scientific data that also creates tools for data access, support data users, performs scientific research, and educates the public about the cryosphere.


NSIDC Data on Google Earth

  • September Sea Ice Extent
  • Sea Ice Minimum and
    Maximum Extents
  • A Climate Change Tour
    of Cold Places
  • Glaciers and Climate Change

Data Visualizations from "Arctic Sea Ice, Variability, and Climate" Video

  • Summer Artic Sea Ice
    Retreat 2013
  • WRF Computational Model
  • Cloud and Precipitation Simulation
  • Arctic Sea Ice Cover

CLEAN: Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network

The CLEAN Collection is a digital collection of climate and energy educational resources aligned with the Climate Literacy Framework and the Energy Literacy Framework

Arctic Climate Connections

Through this three-part curriculum about Arctic climate students will learn about the geography of the Arctic and it's unique aspects including vegetation and the inhabitants of that region. Students collect data in hands-on experiments and learn about climatic observations using Google Earth images.
Grade Level: Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12), and College Lower (13-14)

The Very, Very Simple Climate Model

Using a simple online climate model, students learn about the connection between average global temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions and concentration while predicting temperature change over the 21st century. 
Grade Level: Middle School (6-8) and High School (9-12)
*Spanish-Language Version Available

Envisioning Climate Change Using a Global Climate Model

This week long activity introduces students to running a climate modeling software and comparing their results with those documented in the IPCC impact reports.
Grade Level: High School (9-12) and College Lower (13-14)

Polar Bears International Lesson Plans

Polar Bears International is the only conservation organization that soley focuses on polar bears.  Polar Bears International provides access to curricula created by professionals that are aligned with national literacy standards and learning outcomes for specific school districts.

Polar Bears in a Warming World

Explore the impacts of sea ice loss over time in a warming climate and the ensuing threats these changes may have on the arctic ecosystem and its inhabitants. 
Grade Level: Upper Elementary (4-5) and Middle School (6-8)

Top of the World

A perfect introduction to a unit study on the Arctic. This lesson focuses on geography of the Arctic Circle, as well as the human and environmental characteristics of the arctic region. It includes a Pre-Lesson: The Arctic vs. Antarctica, a map of the Arctic Cirle, and a 66 Degrees and Me! Table. 
Grade Level: Upper Elementary (4-5) and Middle School (6-8)

Learn More About Glaciers! Activities from CU-Boulder

Glaciers are found across the world, though the majority of them are in the polar regions. Explore how glaciers are formed, how they move, and why they are melting with these activities. 

PhetT Interactive Glacier Simulation

Use this downloadable simulation to adjust mountain snowfall and temperature to see the glacier grow and shrink. Students can use scientific tools to measure thickness, velocity, and glacial budget. Find Sample Learning Goals and Teacher-Submitted Activities on the PhET site to accompany the simulation. 
Grade Level: Middle School (6-8) and High School (9-12)
*Translations into multiple languages available

Glaciers on the Move

In this inquiry based activity, students learn about how glaciers move by observing how a “flubber” glacier slides down a tiny mountain valley. While honing their observation skills, students will learn how slope and basal conditions (roughness of the ground surface) affect glacier movement. 
Grade Level: Upper Elementary (4-5) and Middle School (6-8)


James White Dr. James White
Director, INSTAAR; Professor of Geology and Environmental Studies

Dr. White's specific areas of research include studying the global carbon cycle, both modern and in the past, and reconstructing past environmental conditions using ice cores. He is working now on new deep ice cores in Greenland and Antarctica. He was one of the first scientists to identify abrupt climate changes that typify large climate shifts on our planet. He is an author of over one hundred peer-reviewed publications, and is a highly cited author in the geosciences.

Waleed Abdalati Waleed Abdalati
Director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Dr. Abdalati’s research focuses on the use of remote sensing observations to understand the Earth's changing ice cover and what those changes mean for life on the planet. Abdalati was formerly NASA’s Chief Scientist, where he was the principal adviser to the NASA Administrator on science programs and strategic planning.

Jen Kay Jen Kay
Assistant Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences Fellow

Dr. Kay studies polar climate change and variability. Her research interests include coupled climate processes, cold clouds and precipitation, sea ice, climate forcing and feedback, and internal climate variability.

Ted Scambos Dr. Ted Scambos
Senior Research Scientist, Lead Scientist for NSIDC NSIDC Science Team

Dr Scambos studies Antarctic glaciology, and is currently investigating environmental change along the Antarctic Peninsula. His work includes glaciology; remote sensing of the poles; climate change effects on the cryosphere; Antarctic history; geochemistry; and planetary science.

Julienne Stroeve Dr. Julienne Stroeve
Research Scientist III NSIDC

Dr. Stroeve focuses on remote sensing of snow and ice in the visible, infrared, and microwave wavelengths.

Andrew Slater Dr. Andrew Slater
Research Scientist III, NSIDC

Dr. Slater specializes in land-surface and hydrologic modeling of snow, frozen ground, permafrost; hydrologic forecasting and data assimilation.

Mark Serezze Dr. Mark Serezze
Director of NSIDC; Research Professor of Geography

Dr. Serezze's interests include atmosphere-sea ice interactions, synoptic climatology, boundary layer problems, and climate change. He has conducted field work in the Canadian Arctic on sea ice and icecaps, and on the Alaskan tundra with an increasing focus on the rapid environmental changes being observed in the Arctic.