Why do we observe the ocean?

globe toss

Introductory activity in which students determine how much of the earth is covered by the ocean. Adapted from an activity developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science.

How do we observe the ocean?

Students explore what kind of information can be obtained from ocean observing systems by accessing online buoy data.


The motion of the ocean

Students construct a clay model to become familiar with the forces which produce circulation patterns in ocean basins and to predict patterns or eddy development with variances in bathymetery (Developed by COSEE-Southeast)

current model

Students use Ocean Observing System data to examine the Gulf Stream.

Field activity in which students use drifters to study surface currents (Developed by COSEE-Southeast). 

Density: Sink or Float?

This activity demonstrates density differences in ocean and coastal waters and how these differences drive currents.

Students determine if water is mixed or stratified through a field activity and  compare field data to data from observing systems to assess the advantages and disadvantages of the two methods of data collection.

Currents affect climate and weather

Students will use current and yearly average temperature data to assess how the ocean affects air temperatures.

Extreme Events: Oceans Impact Coastal Areas

topo map

Students use topographic maps and tide data to explain what areas of the coastline will be flooded in a given number of years. They also predict the extent of flooding due to storm surge (Developed by COSEE-Southeast and COSEE-Coastal Trends).

Students track a hurricane using latitude and longitude.  They also learn about a hurricane's formation and the amount of devastation it caused.


Young Fish and shellfish are at the mercy of currents

Hatch to Catch: Interactive online activity in which students determine factors contributing to larvae survival.

Where Could the Stripers Be?: Students determine

where striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay can live based on temperature and dissolved oxygen conditions.

Global climate change may affect where aquatic organisms can live

Students use real-time ocean temperature data to predict the distribution of marine organisms.

Additional Resources

pdf iconScience Presentation: The Coastal Ocean: Estuaries and Continental Shelves: How do they move, how do we know this, and what's happening in the long run? Dr. Bill Boicourt, University of Maryland

NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory: contains Hurricane Katrina animation (from Dr. Bill Boicourt's presentation) as well as other visualizations.