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The Thermohaline Circulation - The Great Ocean Conveyor Belt

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

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
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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.

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