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The Thermohaline Circulation - The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt
http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003600/a003658/

NASA /Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

This NASA animation depicts thermohaline circulation in the ocean and how it relates to salinity and water density. It illustrates the sinking of water in the cold, dense ocean near Iceland and Greenland. The surface of the ocean then fades away and the animation pulls back to show the global thermohaline circulation system.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Animation supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 5 Cross Cutting Concepts
High School: 2 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 6 Cross Cutting Concepts

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Ocean as climate control, oceanic conveyor belt; abrupt changes in thermohaline circulation
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2b
Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c

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

  • The animation needs the support of the accompanying text to explain what is going on in the visualization.
  • It may be useful to watch the animation in chunks while the instructor uses the text to explain each chunk.
  • Teachers could also show the animation to students several times and then have students explain what they see and what is happening.
  • Note that this is a model based on current theory and not observed data (the download page has more information).

About the Science

  • A visual representation of thermohaline circulation. Not narrated.
  • This is a model based on current theory and modeling.
  • The page also contains background information on the thermohaline dynamics.
  • Comment from expert scientist: The science in this activity is certainly at the current state of the art, however I am not sure if it is accessible to people without a lot of prior knowledge.

About the Pedagogy

  • Accompanying text explains why the circulation pattern is depicted as it is and what to look for in the animation - the animation would be difficult to understand without this accompanying text.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Good background materials for instructors.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Animation supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

MS-PS3.A4:The term “heat” as used in everyday language refers both to thermal energy (the motion of atoms or molecules within a substance) and the transfer of that thermal energy from one object to another. In science, heat is used only for this second meaning; it refers to the energy transferred due to the temperature difference between two objects.

MS-ESS2.C3:Global movements of water and its changes in form are propelled by sunlight and gravity.

MS-ESS2.C4:Variations in density due to variations in temperature and salinity drive a global pattern of interconnected ocean currents.

MS-ESS2.D1:Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns.

MS-ESS2.D3:The ocean exerts a major influence on weather and climate by absorbing energy from the sun, releasing it over time, and globally redistributing it through ocean currents.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 5

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C4.3:Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.

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

MS-C5.3:Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

MS-C5.4:The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 2

HS-PS3.B2:Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be transported from one place to another and transferred between systems

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.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 6

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

HS-C5.2:Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system.

HS-C5.3:Energy cannot be created or destroyed—only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems.

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


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