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Effects of El Niño/La Niña on Phytoplankton and Fish

EarthNow Team, NOAA

This video shows 15 years of data obtained via Polar-orbiting satellites that are able to detect subtle differences in ocean color, allowing scientists to see where there are higher concentrations of phytoplankton - a proxy for the concentration of chlorophyll in the ocean.

Video length is 4:24 min.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • This is an excellent real-world example that ties climate to biology to economics (fisheries). The video is visually appealing in the sense that it offers a global view of the population distributions of phytoplankton.
  • Educators might want to do a more in-depth introduction to El Niño/La Niña, as the schematics in the video are small and used briefly.
  • Educators could have students graph some of the annual averages to see changes in abundance and distribution over time.

About the Science

  • The video pulls together climatic cycles (El Niño/La Niña)information with phytoplankton data. Phytoplankton form the base of the food web and supply half of all the oxygen that we breath.
  • The narrator provides a clear explanation of the data and how it is being used to understand fish distributions and why some fisheries suddenly collapse.
  • Comments from expert scientist: It is presented in a interesting way. I think the animation is interesting and facilitate the understanding of the phenomenon. I like the image of the various fish species and marine mammals and seabirds.I think that this resource is incomplete. Should mention the phenomenon "La Nada" which isa phase with no El Niño and Niña.

About the Pedagogy

  • The video presents the data in a very straightforward, scientific manner without any fluff; it is not especially engaging for students.
  • No specifically pedagogical material is provided.
  • A link to NOAA's site http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/enso4.html gives educators background information on the topic of El Niño impact on fish distributions.
  • Connects with Ocean literacy principles and standards.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The video is easy to watch and is close-captioned; it provides both oral and visual info.
  • The video was made for Science On a Sphere (SOS) but has been made available for use on a flat screen.
  • Interactive video links are provided at the end of the video, some of which are provided in Spanish (though not labeled as such).
  • Note that this visual uses a different color coding scheme than other phytoplankton visuals (if using others in the classroom).

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