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Polar Bear Maternal Den Activity with the USGS Alaska Science Center: Middle School Lesson

Participate in this fun, interactive lesson that allows students to think like a wildlife biologist! This middle and high school lesson focuses on how changes in sea ice extent are leading to shifts in location and distribution of polar bear maternal dens in northern Alaska. Additionally, students can learn how to measure distances between dens and industrial sites.

The goal of the project is for students to examine the distribution of maternal polar bear dens in northern Alaska over a period of approximately 30 years (1983-2015) and measure distance of land-based dens to the nearest industrial site.

  • A spreadsheet of data describes if dens were on land or sea ice, the year and method of den detection, and the latitude and longitude of the den.  A second spreadsheet provides locations of industrial sites on the central part of the North Slope of Alaska.
  • Students download a kmz file that can be viewed in Google Earth.  Separate files for dens and industrial sites are also provided for further exploration. 
  • Students can compare the substrate (sea ice or land) used by polar bears for dens between the early period (1983-1999) and later period (2000-2015) to look for shifts in what substrates were used over these time periods.
  • Students can also measure the distances between dens and industrial sites.
  • Students can then discuss how patterns of den location may have changed over time, potential reasons for any changes, and the distances between land dens and industrial sites.

Text and activity files by: Bianca Ruiz for USGS through the Virtual Student Federal Service program.

Initial drafts by: Bella Lesinski for USGS through the Virtual Student Federal Service program.



Download the following lesson plan and corresponding data files:

  1. Classroom lesson [PowerPoint - 21MB] or [PDF - 2.6MB]
  2. Data: Den Locations [CSV - 2KB] or [PDF - 50KB]
  3. Data: Industrial Sites  [CSV - 2KB] or [PDF - 50KB]
  4. Data: Google Earth file [KMZ - 5KB]