Ocean Temperature

Science Concepts—Ocean Temperature

Summary: When displayed on a map, sea surface temperature (SST) measurements from the ocean help scientists see patterns in global sea surface temperature changes. Students watch and interpret an animation that shows temperatures varying according to season. Then they use a similar map to visualize temperature anomalies. Students practice reading and interpreting maps and charts to identify patterns, and they describe how patterns in data help scientists understand when new changes are occurring.

Concepts to teach:


  1. Scientists have been measuring ocean sea surface temperature for many years.
  2. Sea surface temperature normally varies according to latitude and season.
  3. By examining long-term datasets, scientists can detect changes that differ from normal patterns.

Standards: NGSS Performance Expectations

  • 3-ESS2-2. Obtain and combine information to describe climates in different regions of the world.

Specific Objectives:
Students will be able to:

  1. Identify factors that produce normal patterns of variability in ocean temperatures.
  2. Interpret a map that shows how sea surface temperatures vary over time.
  3. Obtain and evaluate information showing that ocean heat content is rising.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • NASA’s Global Temperature Anomalies visualization 1880-2018
  • What are today’s SST conditions? Check the earth.nullschool website for a visualization of global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers (updated every 3 hours)
  • EPA’s Ocean Heat Content—Ocean heat is an indicator for climate change. This page describes trends in the amount of heat stored in the world’s oceans between 1955 and 2015.


  • What do the colors in the “Anomalies” animation and the SST map indicate?
  • What are today’s SST conditions?
  • The EPA’s Ocean Heat Content graphic plots three different datasets on the graph. How does looking at results from more than one set of data help scientists understand patterns?



  • NOAA’s Global Science Investigator—Use false color images to examine patterns in sea surface temperatures. The Sea Surface Temperature animation can be used to determine normal seasonal variations 2000–2006, while the Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies animation shows temperatures that differ from normal patterns 1980–1999.