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Changing Planet: The Case of the Leaky Gyre

Missy Holzer, Windows to the Universe

In this activity, students model circulation in gyres, explore characteristics of gyres found around the world, and predict the climate impacts of changes to the circulation in these gyres and climate on adjacent land. Gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, play an important role in Earth's climate system.

Activity takes two to three 45-minute lesson periods. Additional materials required.

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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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mate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes
About Teaching Principle C
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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
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A) Processes that shape the Earth.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
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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

  • Show the video twice, once before doing the activity and once after. Ask students to focus their second watching on the link to climate change.
  • It will be important to explain (or have learners explain) the difference between gyres and ocean circulation in general.
  • Additional Background material for Arctic Oscillation to supplement step 9 can be found here: http://nsidc.org/arcticmet/patterns/arctic_oscillation.html.

About the Science

  • Activity promotes learning about ocean circulation and gyres.
  • Activity has basic background information for the teacher at the end of the lesson plan.
  • Recommendation to tie in this activity with one that discusses stratification of ocean, deep ocean currents, salinity, and thermohaline circulation.
  • Additional references are included as well as links to related information on this website.
  • Passed initial science review - expert science review pending.

About the Pedagogy

  • Activity has a hands-on component and teachers should be easily able to expand and enhance this.
  • Video is short, engaging, and a good way to introduce the concepts in the activity.
  • The hands-on/worksheet portion of activity should work well for small groups of students.
  • Students should have some background in climate and map reading to be successful at this activity.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

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