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Learning Polar Oceanography: Ocean Currents and Climate Connections
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/teachers/lessonplans/science/jan-june08/polar_oceanography.html

Alan Sills, PBS Newshour

This series of activities introduce students to polar oceanography, polar climate and how events that occur in oceans thousands of kilometers away affect them and the mid-latitudes using maps, images, lab experiments and online data tools. Students explore how conditions are changing in the Polar Regions and the possible impacts upon life in the United States and other mid-latitude nations.

Activity has 5 conceptually linked activities that take about five 45-minute class periods if each part is assigned. For part of the activity, a computer lab is required, for some other parts, access to a science lab room is needed.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Covering 70% of Earth's surface, the ocean exerts a major control on climate by dominating Earth's energy and water cycles. It has the capacity to absorb large amounts of solar energy. Heat and water vapor are redistributed globally through density-driven ocean currents and atmospheric circulation. Changes in ocean circulation caused by tectonic movements or large influxes of fresh water from melting polar ice can lead to significant and even abrupt changes in climate, both locally and on global scales.
About Teaching Principle 2
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Energy Literacy

Humans transfer and transform energy from the environment into forms useful for human endeavors.
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4.1 Humans transfer and transform energy.
Different sources of energy and the different ways energy can be transformed, transported and stored each have different benefits and drawbacks.
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4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
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Various sources of energy are used to power human activities .

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:A) Processes that shape the Earth
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.1 The Earth as a Physical System:C) Energy
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C) Energy.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Thermal energy carried by ocean currents has a strong influence on climates around the world. Areas near oceans tend to have more moderate temperatures than they would if they were farther inland but at the same latitude because water in the oceans can hold a large amount of thermal energy.
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Transfer of thermal energy between the atmosphere and the land or oceans produces temperature gradients in the atmosphere and the oceans. Regions at different temperatures rise or sink or mix, resulting in winds and ocean currents. These winds and ocean currents, which are also affected by the earth's rotation and the shape of the land, carry thermal energy from warm to cool areas.
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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

  • Ideally the teacher would research more recent Arctic climate data for the students to work with. The data sets that are provided end at 2003.
  • A good, short, visualization-type activity to add if time allows is "Exploring Global Ocean Currents" (See Part II of Extension Activities).

About the Science

  • Very well designed activity that fosters an in-depth understanding of the thermohaline circulation and the implications that any changes in the system might have in the future.
  • Temperature data for the Arctic that is included with the activity is unfortunately only until 2003; including the most recent warming trends would strengthen the message of the activity.
  • Definition of cryosphere is not correct. Cryosphere does not have to be covered by frozen ice but rather any part of the Earth where water is present in frozen state of aggregation.

About the Pedagogy

  • Nicely arranged suite of hands-on activities, videos, readings, and discussion questions that will engage students with different learning styles through graphing, reading, lab experiments and interpretation of data).
  • Carefully designed activity, with great guiding questions and answer keys for educators.
  • Great extension activities that also include solutions for anthropogenic climate change (energy awareness): Alternative Fuels and Alternative Cars.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Well organized and laid out for easy use by educators and students.

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