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Ocean Impacts on an El Nino Event

Missy Holzer, My NASA Data

This lesson explores El Nino by looking at sea surface temperature, sea surface height, and wind vectors in order to seek out any correlations there may be among these three variables, using the My NASA Data Live Access Server. The lesson guides the students through data representing the strong El Nino from 1997 to 1998. In this way, students will model the methods of researchers who bring their expertise to study integrated science questions.

Activity takes two 50 minute class periods. Access to a computer lab is necessary.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate change vs. climate variability and patterns
About Teaching Principle 4
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Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
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Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
Other materials addressing:
A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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Scientific investigations usually involve the collection of relevant data, the use of logical reasoning, and the application of imagination in devising hypotheses and explanations to make sense of the collected data.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Some terminology has changed in the My NASA Data Live Access Server web interface, but it should be easy for educators to adapt their instructions to the student users of this website.
  • There are no obvious instructions on how to save the images produced by the Live Access Server: Educators will need to make sure to instruct their students.
  • Activity has students getting data by hand, which is a lot of work. Potentially download data ahead of time for students.
  • Extensions to this lesson offer additional inquiry activities that address this topic.
  • Other El Niño activities that include more recent data can be found at: http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/, animation to support this activity can be found at: http://sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/videos.html.

About the Science

  • Students analyze data from 1997 and 1998, when there was a strong El Niño event.
  • The Live Data Server does contain more recent data that could be used if educators wanted to consider a more recent El Niño event.
  • TOPEX-Poseidon has been decommissioned: data on sea level is now collected by Jason 1 and 2.
  • Student teams study single variables - sea surface height, sea surface temperature, or wind vectors using NASA data. Each team examines all variables for several dates to identify characteristic features of the static images and the changes in these features over time. Teams then describe the temporal variations they observe, look for relationships among the three variables, and discuss the causes and effects of these relationships.
  • Comment from scientist: The connections between wind, sea surface temperature and thermocline etc. are accurate but rushed. Educators should provide more explanation of the connections or the figures. Detailed information can be found on the PMEL webpage http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/tao/elnino/nino-home.html.

About the Pedagogy

  • Different learning styles are addressed through the team approach. The use of animations in this activity supplies an alternate tool to improve student understanding. Both visual observations and written answers are required to the posed questions.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Self-contained with links to support materials, including animations, other lessons and background.

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.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-ESS2.C2: The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns.

HS-ESS2.C1: The abundance of liquid water on Earth’s surface and its unique combination of physical and chemical properties are central to the planet’s dynamics. These properties include water’s exceptional capacity to absorb, store, and release large amounts of energy, transmit sunlight, expand upon freezing, dissolve and transport materials, and lower the viscosities and melting points of rocks.

Science and Engineering Practices

MS-P4.2: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships.

MS-P6.3: Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

MS-P7.4: Make an oral or written argument that supports or refutes the advertised performance of a device, process, or system based on empirical evidence concerning whether or not the technology meets relevant criteria and constraints.

MS-P8.5: Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.

MS-P1.1: Ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P1.1: ask questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

HS-P4.1: Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P6.3: Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects.

HS-P7.5: Make and defend a claim based on evidence about the natural world or the effectiveness of a design solution that reflects scientific knowledge and student-generated evidence.

HS-P8.5: Communicate scientific and/or technical information or ideas (e.g. about phenomena and/or the process of development and the design and performance of a proposed process or system) in multiple formats (i.e., orally, graphically, textually, mathematically).

Cross-Cutting Concepts

MS-C5.2: Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

MS-C7.3: Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C2.2: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C3.1: Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

HS-C1.1: Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena

HS-C2.2: Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.1: The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs.

HS-C5.4: Energy drives the cycling of matter within and between systems.

HS-C7.2: Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

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