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Climate Change and the Oceans

The King's Centre for Visualization in Science

This activity covers the role that the oceans may play in climate change and how climate change may affect the oceans. It is lesson 8 in a nine-lesson module Visualizing and Understanding the Science of Climate Change.

Activity takes about one to two 50-minute class periods.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 3 Performance Expectations, 8 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 8 Cross Cutting Concepts, 5 Science and Engineering Practices

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
Biogeochemical cycles of greenhouse gases / Carbon cycle
About Teaching Principle 2
Other materials addressing 2d
Increased acidity of oceans and negative impacts on food chain due to increasing carbon dioxide levels
About Teaching Principle 7
Other materials addressing 7d

Energy Literacy

Water plays a major role in the storage and transfer of energy in the Earth system.
Other materials addressing:
2.4 Water stores and transfers energy.
Movement of matter between reservoirs is driven by Earth's internal and external sources of energy.
Other materials addressing:
2.5 Energy moves between reservoirs.

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

  • This activity includes mathematical equations and calculations. Educators may want to preview these prior to initiating student involvement to make sure students are adequately prepared.
  • Educators should be familiar with the concepts covered in visuals prior to introducing the material to students, as some of them are not annotated (e.g. first video about thermohaline circulation).

About the Science

  • This resource covers a variety of important scientific concepts, including ocean circulation, climate teleconnections, ocean carbon storage, the impacts of increasing temperatures on sea level rise, and the impacts of increasing atmospheric CO2 on ocean acidity levels.
  • Comments from expert scientist: Good overview but does not reference or link to sources/scientific papers.

About the Pedagogy

  • Excellent, self-guided activity that contains interactive visualizations and videos and also poses questions to students throughout.
  • Activity walks users through the key concepts related to the ocean and atmosphere as a global regulators in the Earth's climate system.
  • All embedded applets work and directly relate to user understanding the concepts more deeply.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent videos and complementary applets to support the science.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

High School

Performance Expectations: 3

HS-PS1-5: Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs

HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

HS-LS2-6: Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 8

HS-PS1.B2:In many situations, a dynamic and condition-dependent balance between a reaction and the reverse reaction determines the numbers of all types of molecules present.

HS-PS1.B3:The fact that atoms are conserved, together with knowledge of the chemical properties of the elements involved, can be used to describe and predict chemical reactions.

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.

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

HS-ESS3.D1:Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts.

HS-ESS3.D2:Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities.

HS-LS2.C1:A complex set of interactions within an ecosystem can keep its numbers and types of organisms relatively constant over long periods of time under stable conditions. If a modest biological or physical disturbance to an ecosystem occurs, it may return to its more or less original status (i.e., the ecosystem is resilient), as opposed to becoming a very different ecosystem. Extreme fluctuations in conditions or the size of any population, however, can challenge the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resources and habitat availability.

HS-LS2.C2:Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 8

Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity, Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Stability and Change

HS-C1.5:Empirical evidence is needed to identify patterns.

HS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system.

HS-C3.2: Some systems can only be studied indirectly as they are too small, too large, too fast, or too slow to observe directly.

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

HS-C7.1:Much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable.

HS-C7.3:Feedback (negative or positive) can stabilize or destabilize a system.

Science and Engineering Practices: 5

Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P2.6:Develop and/or use a model (including mathematical and computational) to generate data to support explanations, predict phenomena, analyze systems, and/or solve problems.

HS-P3.5:Make directional hypotheses that specify what happens to a dependent variable when an independent variable is manipulated.

HS-P4.2:Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible.

HS-P5.2:Use mathematical, computational, and/or algorithmic representations of phenomena or design solutions to describe and/or support claims and/or explanations.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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