Ocean Motion
01.21.09
What explains the hundreds of sneakers that washed ashore along the Pacific Northwest during the winter of 1990-1991? Or the bath toys that have periodically appeared on Alaskan beaches since 1992?

A screenshot of the Ocean Motion Web site featuring a sea surface temperature map

NASA's Ocean Motion Web site contains a comprehensive review of the surface circulation of Earth's oceans. The site offers classroom investigations appropriate for various disciplines at the high school level. Image Credit: NASA

The answer is ocean surface currents -- similar to those ridden long ago by Christopher Columbus on his voyages to the New World -- and, of course, the mid-ocean cargo spills that dumped the items in the first place.

These currents not only steer objects lost at sea. The currents also are used to speed the transport of goods, increase fuel efficiency of ships, track oil spills, aid search and rescue operations, and locate prime fishing areas. The currents also influence weather patterns across the globe.

Ocean surface currents are the focus of Ocean Motion, a NASA Web site for students at grade levels 9-12. The Web site features:
--Background information about ocean surface currents.
--A timeline showing how humans have used ocean surface currents to navigate the globe.
--Articles on how ocean surface currents affect people through climate variability, natural hazards and marine resources.
--Descriptions of tools used to observe ocean surface currents, including satellites, radar, buoys and historical ship data.
--Profiles of oceanographers and their research, including video interviews.
--Interactive satellite data visualizers and models.
--Lesson plans that incorporate real data.
--Earth science misconceptions, a matrix showing objectives and national education standards addressed by each lesson, and other information for teachers.
--A glossary.
--Quizzes on subjects such as navigation, Coriolis force, satellites and ocean gyres.
"Stirred and mixed by mighty currents, the oceans distribute heat across the globe and regulate our climate," said Josh Willis, Jet Propulsion Laboratory oceanographer in Pasadena, Calif. "Knowledge of the oceans will increase our ability to use the Earth wisely and well."

View site:
Ocean Motion   →

Related Resources
MY NASA DATA lesson: Ocean Currents and Sea Surface Temperatures   →


Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies