Highways of the Oceans – Sea currents and the connection to climate

Brief description

In this set of three activities, students will use an multimedia module to learn about sea currents, the highways of the oceans, and how they are important for understanding local climates. Using a hands on activity they will investigate what causes ocean currents. They will also use satellite images to analyse the temperature of the sea surface and understand why satellite observations are useful for monitoring sea currents. 

Subject  Geography, Science, Physics

Learning Objectives
  • Elaborate on global ocean and air currents and discuss what they mean to the climate
  • Identify local and global weather processes and climatic phenomena and their causes
  • Use tools available on the internet to collect and analyse satellite data
  • Understand how Earth observation can be used to monitor oceans
  • Interpret sea surface temperature maps
Age range
12 – 15 years old
approximately 45 minutes per activity
Resource available in:
Activity 1: Ocean in motion
In this activity, students will explore an multimedia module to learn about sea currents and how they connect remote places on our planet. Students will learn that winds and Earth’s rotation are the main causes of surface currents. At the end, students will discuss ocean pollution, and debate possible actions to lessen the problem. 
Activity 2: How does water sink?
In this activity, students learn that winds drive ocean surface currents. However, ocean currents also flow thousands of metres below the surface. In this activity, students will investigate why these masses of water sink to form the deep ocean currents.
  • Two 250ml beakers
  • Coloured ice cubes
  • 1 teaspoon
  • Salt
  • Water
Activity 3: Feeling the heat
In this activity, students will use satellite images to analyse the temperature of the sea surface. Students will investigate the relation between ocean currents and the sea surface temperature (SST), and understand the importance of monitoring the temperature of the oceans. 

Did you know?

To measure the sea surface temperature, satellites register different types of light that we cannot see with our eyes. One of these special types of light (or radiation) is called thermal infrared. It is the same radiation registered by night vision cameras. The infrared sensor from the Sentinel-3 satellite provides precise global maps of sea surface temperature. This information is used to monitor oceans and climate change, as well as for weather forecasting. 

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