Ocean Currents

Ocean Currents

This pages introduces ocean currents, the mechanisms that drive them and their heat and nutrient transfers. It provides a number of well resources videos and graphics to help students discover for themselves. It also includes a fun map from memory activity.

Enquiry Question

How do ocean currents operate and influence?

Lesson Time: 1 Hour

Lesson Objectives:

  • To describe the distribution of warm and cold ocean currents
  • To explain the operation of these ocean currents
  • To explain how ocean currents transfer nutrients and energy

Teacher Notes:

Teacher notes to follow

Starter Activity - Ocean Current Visualizer - Patterns and Processes

Study the following animation visualizing ocean currents.

  1. Write down observations on the patterns you observe. Focus on small scale locations and large scale ocean transfers
  2. Discuss with your table the patterns you observed

Student Activity - The Global Map of Ocean Currents - Map From Memory - Patterns

Work with your table to make a copy of the following map showing the global pattern of ocean currents

The map will be shown for 15 seconds. Study it and then complete your map with the correct arrows to show location, direction and temperature

The map will be shown a second time and possibly a third time

Map from Memory Template

Student Activity - The Thermohaline Conveyor Belt - Patterns and Processes

Watch the following video and answer the questions (09:00 to 12:00)

How big is the thermohaline conveyer belt and how long does it take to complete a full cycle?

What drives the conveyor belts movement in the Arctic?

Student Activity - NOAA Explains Ocean Currents - Processes

Read the following NOAA text explaining ocean currents

Surface currents are generated largely by wind. Their patterns are determined by wind direction, coriolis force from the Earth’s rotation, and the position of landforms that interact with the currents.  Surface wind-driven currents generate upwelling currents in conjunction with landforms, creating deep water currents.

Currents may also be generated by density differences in water masses caused by temperature and salinity variations.  These currents move water masses through the deep ocean—taking nutrients, oxygen, and heat with them. 

Occasional events also trigger serious currents. Huge storms move water masses. Underwater earthquakes may trigger devastating tsunamis. Both move masses of water inland when they reach shallow water and coastlines. Earthquakes may also trigger rapid downslope movement of water-saturated sediments, creating turbidity currents strong enough to snap submarine communication cables.

Student Activity - The Ocean: A Driving Force for Weather and Climate - Processes

Watch the following video and answer the questions on the worksheet.

Ocean Currents Question Sheet

Student Activity - Ocean Nutrient Transfers - Processes

Study the following image showing ocean nutrient cycles in the Southern Ocean.

  1. Where do ocean nutrients come from?
  2. Where are they stored and transported?

Student Assessment - Exam Questions

  1. Explain two ways that oceans transfer nutrients (2+2)
  2. Suggest two reasons explaining ocean currents (2+2)
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