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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.

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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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Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models that represent the climate system and make predictions about its future behavior. Results from these models lead to better understanding of the linkages between the atmosphere-ocean system and climate conditions and inspire more observations and experiments. Over time, this iterative process will result in more reliable projections of future climate conditions.
About Teaching Principle 5
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

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.
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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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In a fluid, regions that have different temperatures have different densities. The action of a gravitational force on regions of different densities causes them to rise or fall, creating currents that contribute to the transfer of energy.
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Computer modeling explores the logical consequences of a set of instructions and a set of data. The instructions and data input of a computer model try to represent the real world so the computer can show what would actually happen. In this way, computers assist people in making decisions by simulating the consequences of different possible decisions.
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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

  • 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.

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