Adopt a Drifter: Do Ocean Surface Currents Influence Climate?

Contributor
Mary Cook, Middle School Science Teacher, Ahlf Jr. High School, Searcy, Arkansas
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Data , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Activity
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

Students construct climographs showing both precipitation and temperature for 3 coastal cities and describe how ocean surface currents affect climate on nearby land. They are provided with the research question, “Do ocean currents influence climate?” and are asked to construct a hypothesis. The students are asked to read an introductory paragraph explaining the relationship between the temperature of the ocean current and temperature and precipitation on adjacent land and examine a map of major ocean currents. They construct 3 climographs using data provided. The labels on the graphs are not directly on the lines, so the teacher would need to instruct students on the placement of their data points. Conclusion and analysis questions are provided asking students to examine the direction of flow of ocean currents, temperature of the water, source regions of the current, and impact on both temperature and precipitation on coastal regions. Extension activities include researching additional information on vegetation, culture and physical geography of the 3 cities studied, plus comparing data for 2 additional cities. The activity should take 2 class periods.

Please note that the information provided in the Introduction simplifies the relationship between ocean currents and precipitation. Global precipitation patterns are created by the convergence of trade winds at the Equator which then rise at that latitude and descend at 30 degrees north and south of the equator. Descending air creates high pressure systems which do not create precipitation. In the southern hemisphere trade winds also blow from east to west, so the wind in Chile is blowing from the land creating dry continental air masses. These factors create the desert climate in Arica, Chile.  In contrast, the 2 cities in the northern hemisphere are impacted by the warm ocean currents. Warm water evaporates more easily than cold, causing a warmer and wetter climate than locations further inland at the same latitude.

Intended Audience

Learner
Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS2-6 Develop and use a model to describe how unequal heating and rotation of the Earth cause patterns of atmospheric and oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how patterns vary by latitude, altitude, and geographic land distribution. Emphasis of atmospheric circulation is on the sunlight-driven latitudinal banding, the Coriolis effect, and resulting prevailing winds; emphasis of ocean circulation is on the transfer of heat by the global ocean convection cycle, which is constrained by the Coriolis effect and the outlines of continents. Examples of models can be diagrams, maps and globes, or digital representations

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the dynamics of the Coriolis effect.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students analyze patterns of temperature and precipitation in relation to nearby ocean currents and determine their effects on regional climates. The teacher would need to find another resource that relates atmospheric circulation to regional climates in order to address that portion of the performance expectation. Resources such as http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/encyclopedia/coriolis-effect/?ar_a=1 could be accessed for diagrams of the Coriolis effect of Earth’s rotation on atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns. If students were to do the extension activities and then generalize the patterns they see to a global model, they would address the “develop and use a model” portion of the performance expectation. They could use a map or a globe, show the major ocean currents and indicate the climates around the globe, then describe the patterns that form.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students analyze temperature and precipitation data quantitatively and the results are related to locations of ocean currents. The relationship is presented as causal, with ocean currents causing climatic conditions. The teacher could ask the students if the relationship is one of correlation or causation. Correlation does not imply causation. Correlation means there is a relationship between the variables while causation indicates cause and effect. The lesson asks students about the correlations between the variables, which they can see in their data. The teacher could address causation by asking the students, “Explain the cause and effect relationship between ocean currents and climate. Does regional climate cause the flow of the currents? Does the flow of the currents cause regional climates?” Variations in the data or incorrect graphing of data could lead to a discussion of data and error analysis.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The students examine the relationship between the ocean current and climate of 3 different locations on Earth. The ocean’s absorption of energy from the sun could be addressed by asking students about patterns they see on the “Map of Major Ocean Currents” and what causes the patterns of warm currents near the equator and cold currents near the poles. The release of energy over time could be discussed as a current such as the Gulf Stream is followed north from the equator and students hypothesize about the redistribution of that energy both in the water on onto land.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students are asked questions about the patterns in temperature and precipitation, about the relationship between the temperature of the ocean currents, the direction they flow, and the coastal climate. They examine how the patterns differ for the two hemispheres.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students are asked questions about the patterns in temperature and precipitation, about the relationship between the temperature of the ocean currents, the direction they flow, and the coastal climate. They examine how the patterns differ for the two hemispheres. The cause and effect relationship can be made clear using suggestions provided in the “Tips for Addressing the Practice” above.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson includes grade-appropriate elements of the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas and crosscutting concepts. Students analyze and interpret data, use mathematical thinking, and construct explanations while studying patterns in regional climates related to nearby oceanic currents. The three dimensions work together to support students making sense of the phenomena. The lesson could address the 3 dimensions in further depth through further extensions of the information provided. For example, with additional investigations global models could be developed and additional information atmospheric circulation patterns such as the Coriolis effect, trade winds, and Westerlies and movement of air around low and high pressure systems could be included. Related resources are available at: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/pd/oceans_weather_climate/welcome.html http://cleanet.org/resources/45173.html http://cleanet.org/resources/45134.html

  • Instructional Supports: The activities engage students in meaningful scenarios that reflect science as it is practiced in the real world. They examine data from relevant phenomena and connect their explanation to the phenomena. When teaching the lesson, the teacher could wait to distribute the second fact sheet which contains pictures and climatic conditions for the 3 locations so students can develop their explanations. To strengthen the lesson, students could gather their own data and make interpretations for other locations on Earth. The lesson could also address their prior knowledge of climate and ocean currents. No suggestions are included for differentiated instruction for those not meeting the performance expectation. One of the extension suggestions does challenge students who meet the expectations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson elicits evidence that students have analyzed the climate data and established the relationship between climate and ocean currents. A set of questions, some of which require higher-order thinking skills, provides formative assessment of their analysis and understanding of the relationships. No rubrics or scoring guidelines are provided, although correct answers are given. Only one method of assessing student understanding is provided which may not be accessible for all students.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The activities do not require the use of any technology except in the extension when students are directed to conduct research into one of the cities studied. This research would probably be conducted using the Internet.