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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.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Video supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 9 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 2 Cross Cutting Concepts
High School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts

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 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 breathe.
  • 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).

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Video supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 9

MS-ESS2.C1:Water continually cycles among land, ocean, and atmosphere via transpiration, evaporation, condensation and crystallization, and precipitation, as well as downhill flows on land.

MS-ESS2.C2:The complex patterns of the changes and the movement of water in the atmosphere, determined by winds, landforms, and ocean temperatures and currents, are major determinants of local weather patterns.

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

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.

MS-ESS3.C1:Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.

MS-LS2.C1:Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

MS-LS2.C2:Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth’s terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem’s biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health

MS-LS4.D1:Changes in biodiversity can influence humans’ resources, such as food, energy, and medicines, as well as ecosystem services that humans rely on—for example, water purification and recycling.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Cause and effect

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C2.3:Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

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.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS3.C1:The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources.

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: 3

Cause and effect

HS-C2.1:Empirical evidence is required to differentiate between cause and correlation and make claims about specific causes and effects.

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-C2.4:Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects.

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