Summary: Ocean currents redistribute heat around the world and affect the world’s climate. Thermohaline circulation (THC) is a system of both surface and deep currents that transports water through all ocean basins. Complex interactions between wind, the rotation of the earth, temperature and density drives ocean currents and affect weather and climate. In this topic guide, students learn about some of the driving factors behind ocean circulation, and use a model to describe how ocean circulation affects Earth’s climate.
Concepts to teach:
- Crosscutting Concepts
- Cause and Effect
- Disciplinary Core Ideas
- ESS2.A – Earth Materials and Systems
- ESS2.D – Weather and Climate
- Science Practices
- Developing and Using Models
- The ocean plays a major role in regulating the weather and climate of the planet
- Wind and rotation of the earth drive surface currents
- Temperature and density drive deep the global conveyor belt or Thermohaline Currents (THC)
- NGSS Performance Expectations
- HS-ESS2-4. Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in changes in climate
- Ocean Literacy Principle 3: The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate
Students will be able to:
- Identify major ocean current systems and describe how they affect climate in various parts of the globe.
- Give an example of how sea surface temperature affects weather on land
- Describe factors that could disrupt the Global Conveyor Belt (THC).
Activity Links and Resources:
- Ocean Conveyor Belt Kit from C-MORE—These hands on and computer based experiments introduce fundamental oceanography concepts. All the lesson plans and slide shows that come with these kits are available for download from the C-MORE website. Additionally, educators who are near a participating lending facility can check out a kit to use in the classroom.
- Lesson One—Water Stratification
- Lesson Two—Deep Ocean Circulation
- Lesson Three—Using Data to Explore Ocean Processes
- Lesson Four—Nutrients and Ocean Circulation
- NOAA Multimedia Discovery Mission Lesson 8: Ocean Currents
- The Video Lesson provides narrated animations describing surface currents and deep ocean currents, and the Global Impact sections describes how increased ice melt in the Arctic could slow deep ocean circulation.
- Online image: Major Ocean Currents viewer from NOAA National Weather Service JetStream webpages
- The C-MORE Ocean Conveyor Belt kit includes pre and post assessments