Posts Tagged ‘Oceanography’

Students in Oceanography class, which is taken by high school juniors and seniors, were assigned a research topic with presentation for their final assignment. Presentations, given by the students during their final exam period, were a wonderful wrap-up to oceanography and segue to marine biology next semester. Their presentations also provided a means for covering a lot of ocean resource topics in a short time period, as each student was assigned a different resource, but all with the same essential question:


The assignment

Big Idea: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected. The oceans are a connected system of water in motion that transports matter and energy around Earth’s surface.

Assignment:  In the role of a marine scientist, you will research a marine resource and present an argument for a position related to use of that resource, supporting your position with scientifically valid evidence.

Product:  On the day of the final exam you will (1) turn in a 3- to 5- page paper, and (2) give a five- to ten-minute oral presentation, with video support, of your research results.


Commercial Fisshing slide by Jesse

Marine Resource Topics:

To make sure that each student had a separate research topic, I printed the following list in large font and spread them out on the table for students to choose from. Sometimes I assign by putting the topics in a “hat” and students choose blindly, but this is typically followed by a lot of negotiations for swapping; the way I did it this time still had negotiations, but between only those that were quickest with the grab rather than everyone. No perfect way to do this because everyone wants coral reefs.

  • Petroleum and natural gas
  • Marine sand and gravel
  • Magnesium and magnesium compounds
  • Salt
  • Manganese Nodules
  • Phosphorite Deposits
  • Metallic Sulfides
  • Fresh Water from the Ocean
  • Methane hydrates
  • Offshore wind energy
  • Energy from waves and currents
  • Energy from ocean vertical thermal gradient
  • Coastline protection
  • Coral Reefs
  • Medicine and drugs
  • Crustaceans and molluscs
  • Commercial fishing practices
  • Aquaculture
  • Whaling
  • Managing biological resources

Students were encouraged to narrow down their topics to make them more manageable. For example, “Aquaculture” could be narrowed down to shrimp farming.

To make the assignment clear to the students, I broke the description into two pages: the paper and the presentation.

Research Guidelines:


Wave Energy by Jacob

1.Required Length: 1000 words (approximately three pages of text), not including references and not including quoted material.

2.  Required references: a minimum of five relevant scientific articles and/or internet sites related to the topic. This is the minimum amount of reference material — you may need more to do an adequate job of researching your topic.

3.  Things to focus on in your research:

  • define the problem – what part of the world’s ocean does it affect?
  • how did the problem come about? How is the problem being made worse by humans/is it being made worse by humans? What are the various causes of the problem?
  • what are some possible solutions to the problem? Are any of the feasible?  How will we implement some of these solutions?
  • what is the importance or significance of the topic?
  • what methods have scientists used to investigate the topic?
  • what kinds of information and data have scientists found?
  • what major results and conclusions have scientists made, based on the above?

4.  Format of the paper:

  • Lead off with a separate title page, containing: title, your name, course name, school name, date
  • Body of at least three pages of text (~1,000 words):
  • Begin the body with an introduction: a section (one or two paragraphs) that clearly states the purpose of the paper and reviews the main points that the paper will cover
  • Break up the paper into logic sections using subheadings to identify the subject of the different sections
  • End the paper with a conclusion (one or two paragraphs) that wraps up and summarizes in specific ways the main points of the paper
  • Spell-check and grammar-check! (sloppy spelling errors and poor grammar will result in a poor grade)
  • A page (or more) of references per MLA guidelines

5.  Submitting your paper: Submit your paper in electronic format, preferably in Microsoft Word or Google doc.

6.  Plagiarism: Don’t. Just don’t. You know better.


Background and Reflective Thoughts

Our school only teaches MLA formatting. With my 18-year background of  writing engineering documents, I find it frustrating to constantly be getting english-style essays rather than scientific documents. Starting next year, I plan on teaching my students APA formatting, and directing students to understand the difference between technical writing and english-essay writing.

The word length is only 1000 words because I wanted the students focussed on finding good resources and highlighting the issues, rather than being focussed on “getting the right number of words”. In meeting the research requirements most students were concerned that they had gone too far over the minimum.

Our librarian has stacks of research record templates in different colors for students to use to document their research, with teachers assigning a different color for the type of resources, e.g., blue for a book, green for technical article, etc.. Our librarian has, for her entire career here, been proactive in helping students to learn the difference between “good” and “bad” resources, to understand what paraphrasing is and isn’t, and to use databases beyond the internet. She teaches all freshmen how to research a topic and has written a research guide for students.

  • A coral reef is the rainforest of the ocean with all its diversity.” – Sam

Presentation Guidelines:

You may use the board, posters, handouts, or a PowerPoint presentation to help provide visual aids. Following your presentation, there will be time for a few questions. You should know your topic well enough to answer all reasonable questions on the topic. Grades will be based on both what you present and how well you know the information.

If you just read a few paragraphs directly from a sheet of paper or from your slides and cannot answer basic questions on your topic without your notes, you should not expect a passing grade on the presentation.

You have studied many physical aspects of the ocean. Include a detailed discussion of at least one of these in your paper and presentation. They include:

  • Understand and describe some important properties of water: Before we can understand the numerous and amazing ways the oceans impact our lives on land, we need to understand some special qualities of water. Properties such as surface tension, capillary action and solvency make water one of the most unique substances on Earth.
  • Explain how waves form and shape the coastline. Understanding conditions on the shore will help us understand some ocean habitats.
  • Describe the differences between wave and current formation and qualities.
  • Explain how ocean currents influence climate on land.
  • Describe and identify ocean floor features Understanding the shape of the ocean floor will help us understand ocean habitats.
  • Analyze different ocean zones of life and categorize organisms that live in each.

Background and Reflective Thoughts

I enjoyed the student presentations and really wish I had thought to video tape them.  To make sure that students were paying attention to other presentations, they were given a sheet of paper to record thoughts and impressions, and this paper was collected:


I was inspired by many of the presentations and it gave me the idea that, in my mixed CP/Honors Marine Biology class next semester, the honors students (who will have work in addition to the rest of the class) should give presentations to the CP students.

A couple of closing thoughts from the students:

  • Fishing to extinction of species is evolution going in the wrong direction.” – Josh

  • You never think about not having earth’s resources until you do not have them anymore, but by then it is too late. Everyone must be mindful of Earth’s natural resources because so we do not find out one day that they’re all gone. ” – Kelsey

Amen to that.

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Plate Tectonics and the Seafloor

The people who first mapped the seafloor were aboard military vessels during World War II, using echo sounders  to search for submarines. The results produced a map of seafloor depths. Depth sounding continued after the war. Scientists used this information to produce bathymetric maps of the seafloor. During WWII and in the decade or so later, echo sounders had only one beam, so they just returned a line showing the depth beneath the ship. Later echo sounders sent out multiple beams and could create a bathymetric map of the seafloor below. Using the resources provided, answer the following questions, in complete sentences, on your blog. You may copy and paste these questions and resources, to get you started.

Magnetic Stripes

Magnetic Stripes

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Student Oceanography Essay


Going into this year, I was presented with multiple different options for class and of them all I chose Oceanography. When I first saw that this class was offered it intrigued me because it had been a subject that had interested me for a long time. I chose to take this class because our world is predominantly covered by water so it only makes sense to have knowledge on the majority of the world. In oceanography this year I learned a lot of different things that I did not know. I had learned all about the tides, marine life, explorers, as well as many other things. The things that I could have worked on however would be studying more for the various quizzes that we took. I could have challenged my abilities more and worked a little bit harder in class on whatever we were working on that day. Typically a partner or partners and I would work on the labs in class together and would usually complete them. Another thing that I could have done better on is the blogs.  I completed most of the blogs but I could have put a lot more detail into them. I also could have added more pictures to my blogs to add a visual element to them as well as putting them a step above an average post. As far as recognizing my individual learning style I prefer to work in small groups. I do not mind working alone but I feel as though I work more efficiently when I have the responsibility of not letting others down as well. When I work with others, everyone usually benefits from it through the increased work production. When I work alone, I often work at too slow of a pace and don’t finish in the allotted time. Another way that I like to learn is by lectures. Although it may seem boring I learn better through lectures than I do by going through the book and taking notes. Overall, I feel as though I did a fairly good job at applying myself throughout the course.

            Communication was another big aspect of this class because it was so group oriented. During labs it is usually required to that we work with more than one other person so it is very important that one has the ability to communicate properly and convey ideas to one another. If a person cannot convey their ideas to the other members of the group then the group may be missing out on a very good idea and wont be able to use it. It is also very important to communicate so that everyone in the group will get the same information and answers. I usually just say what ever comes to mind when I am working in a group and if the group likes it then great but if they do not then no harm done.

            Overall in this class I have learned a lot about the ocean by doing a handful of assignments and working through some decently challenging labs. Everything we did was related but at the some time it was different. Because everything connected, I was able to tie some concepts into others to make more sense of them. One thing that I worked on was a project about explorers. I had to research Charles Darwin and his journey on the H.M.S Beagle. And do a presentation on the whole thing. This project was one of the few only independent things I did in the class and I believe that I did very well on it. Another assignment that I worked in this class was an assignment where I was given a specific region on the globe and I had to look up what the wind patterns were going into and out of that region. The region that I had was Marlboro, New Zealand. I learned how wind patterns and ocean currents affect that area. Overall, I learned about the varying affects the ocean has on the world. Whether it be through differing tides or winds. I always new that the ocean was a huge part of life but I never really thought about how large until this course. 

~ R. G.

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Final Oceanography Reflection

Student Post

 Final Essay

            The most important thing a person can do is discover the world around them. There is no life more meaningless than one led without a thirst for knowledge; a yearning to discover the root of existence itself. One’s knowledge of outer space, our Earth, and the oceans surrounding us is vital for a creative and fulfilling life. The latter, our vast seas, are the focus of oceanography, which is why this class was so important for not only my academic career (I would like to major in either environmental studies or marine biology), but also for satisfying my natural craving of new thoughts and ideas. Spanning one semester, this class has taught me a range of information relating to ocean physics. Endless assignments, lengthy labs, and study questions have exercised my mind for the past five months, and countless connections can be made between each assignment, forming a map of ocean information.

            Initially, we covered the basics of how civilizations interacted with the ocean. For example, three primary reasons for early man to interact with the ocean were food gathering, to discover new lands, and for trade. We smoothly transitioned into an ocean exploration project, where we learned about certain explorers and the lands they discovered by sailing. The Polynesians, for example, were the first known explorers to practice open-ocean seafaring beyond sight of land.  After researching well-known ocean scientists, we moved on to how the oceans work.

            Something we concentrated greatly on was how the ocean affects everything around it. Specifically, we talked about hurricanes, tides, and currents. We did a hurricane tracking lab in which we discovered how currents affect the direction and intensity of a hurricane, and how hurricanes are tracked.  A hurricane is formed when air from a surrounding area with higher air pressure pushed into a low pressure area, which rises. Surrounding air swirls to take its place and clouds are formed as the air rises and cools. Clouds and wind spin and grow, gaining energy from the ocean’s heat and evaporating water.  They lose a lot of their energy when they come in contact with land, and tracking them is extremely vital for our safety. We use satellites to track hurricanes. The movement of a hurricane can be changed by currents. Currents include horse latitudes, gyres, west wind drifts, equatorials, and more. Another movement of the ocean is its tides. Tides are caused by the pull of the moon, and vary depending on where you are in the world. Here on our beaches we have two tides a day, high and low, which move and dispense sand.

            During our sand lab, we looked at sand from various places under a microscope and determined where it was from based on its shape, color, size, etc. This was my favorite lab because it was interesting to see such a miniscule object close up with a distinct shape. I learned how to use the Wentworth scale to determine if the grain was clay, sand, etc. based on the size of the grains. We used the squares on a piece of graph paper as our own scale. There were so many different beaches the sands could have been from- it was like a puzzle. This lab connects very well to our work with currents, because the movement of water has a huge effect on sand- its location, how it got there, and its size. Different currents would carry different groups of sand to different places, and some sand was too big to be transported by water- it was formed by erosion. All of the labs we did can be connected.

            One project that really struck me was our research on plastic in the ocean. Ever since elementary school, I have been quite the environmental activist. I remember seeing pictures of sea creatures trapped in waste such as grocery bags, and getting my mom to switch over to reusables. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been cutting the plastic rings on six-pack holders so they don’t get stuck around the beak of a duck or the shell of a turtle. I felt a strong connection with this activity, though it was a short one. It made my appreciation for this class grow, knowing that we not only learn the technical facts about oceans, but also the creature-related ones. I love learning about how an environment affects the living things around it.

            Overall, I learned so much during this semester of oceanography. It was a great foundation for my future in environmental studies and/or marine biology, and perhaps even an internship at the New England Aquarium. Learning about scientists, explorers, winds, currents, salinity, hydrometers, the moon and tides, different formations in the ocean floor, and more was a fascinating addition to my highschool career. This was a great class and it will have a positive effect on my future studies and career.

~ S.M.

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Guest Post

Dancing of the Continents

In the “Dancing With the Continents” assignment I learned a plethora of new information about continents, plates and the way they behave. With Wagner’s original theory in 1920 saying the continents slide over the ocean floor, he had the write idea,  just not the evidence to prove it. As technology got better more evidence was found to prove this theory and in 1960 the theory of seafloor spreading was published by Hess. This explained the enlargement of the ocean floor.  In future years the theory of plate tectonics, the accepted scientific theory of ocean plate movement today, was released. It states the ocean floor is broken into large pieces (approx. 6) and many smaller pieces that move against one another.

With these theories in mind, the activity certainly gave each student a lot to think about. The entire world was shaped differently millions of years ago. We could have taken a 2-3 hour drive over to Paris back then. India was the same distance away as Florida instead of around the world. In a a couple million more years the world will look like a different place because the continents move about 2-3cm each year.  That’s amazing.

– Tom

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Portion of ocean floor, from Google Earth

Portion of ocean floor, from Google Earth

Research Questions

How can ocean floor features be measured and mapped using current acoustical technology? How can ocean floor maps be used in the commercial, military, and/or private sector?


  • Use the description of ocean floor features to construct a three-dimensional model of a section of the seafloor.
  • Simulate active sonar soundings of a model of the ocean floor.
  • Describe the concept of vertical exaggeration and why it is used in construction of side profile maps.


In class, we created models of portions of the ocean floor, using playdough, and simulated collecting sounding data in a grid format.


  1. Based on your seafloor model provide a description of the topography of your surveyed area.
  2. Using the sonar stick is actually simulating what is known as remote sensing technology. What are the advantages of using remote sensing technology for your survey instead of direct observation?
  3. When graphing the ocean floor features we stretched the Y-axis. This is known as vertical exaggeration. What is the advantage of using vertical exaggeration in constructing your profiles of the seafloor?

Conclude and Communicate

  1. Identify the research questions for this activity, and your ideas/answers to those questions.
  2. Define the following ocean floor features (your model maps contained at least three of them) and provide pictures for three of them:
    1. A flat abyssal plain.
    2. An underwater seamount or guyot.
    3. A continental shelf, break, slope, and rise.
    4. A submarine canyon on the continental shelf.
    5. The mid-ocean ridge.
    6. A trench and island arc system.
  3. Write up responses to the three analysis questions above.
  4. Write two new research questions based on what you have learned from this activity:
  5. What was the value and importance of this activity to your study of science.

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Floating Lab Field Trip

Oceanography students were blessed with a picture perfect day for their field trip with the UNH Marine Docents Floating Lab Program on October 4, 2013. This program took place on a fishing boat rented from Eastman’s Docks in Seabrook, NH and consisted of five separate lab activities, each about 25  minutes long. The five labs were:

  • Plankton sampling
  • Charting a position
  • Benthic organisms
  • Water sampling
  • Georges Bank Fish

Students were grouped into five groups and rotated through the stations. Each station had two marine science docents, so the student-to-teacher ratio was no more than 1:3! This was a wonderful opportunity to get some authentic learning for high school students. We also took advantage of a sandy beach lesson after lunch. Each station is briefly described below.

Trawling For Benthics

Before any of the activities got underway, we trawled for benthic organisms and the students helped pull up the catch.

Bottom trawling is a benthic sampling technique that uses a net dragged along the bottom of the water body to collect organisms living there, for further study. The device used in this program is shown in model form in the image below. If has floats on the top of the net and weights on the bottom of the net to keep the net as open as possible. For purposes of scientific study, it provides a “grab” sample of a small area and facilitate habitat mapping studies. Since trawls are destructive in nature, they are not to be used in fragile habitats.

A model of the trawling net is used to explain its operation


The trawl line dragging behind the boat

Students line up and grab a piece of the trawl line rope to pu it up.

Many hands make light work.


Plankton Catch

Students used a standard plankton net – and I forget the size mesh – for taking a plankton sample. The critters were then rinsed down the mesh and collected in a box, where students could take a sample for viewing. The viewing container, I believe this is a DiscoveryScope, is a little clear rectangular box that fits together. This viewing box then fits onto a frame with a magnifying glass to look through. I could not get any pictures through the view box but some of the students were able to.

Stunning students sampling plankton

Working a plankton sampling net

Viewing box to see the plankton collected

Charting Your Position

At this station students determined their location in Hampton Harbor using a portion of the marine chart and parallel rulers. We had tried a similar activity in class, but did not have any parallel rulers, and this – being on the water bobbing around and looking for water towers and high tide lines – gave a more honest representation of how to plot your location. The students also had real compasses, rather than their iPhone compass, which further improved the activity.

Docent showing the Georges Bank Chart

Learning how to use a parallel ruler

Benthic Organisms

The best way to describe what was pulled from the bottom is to show you the pictures.


Tough guy crab


Baby lobsters


Sea squirt


Red algae


Baby mussels and tunicates


Front box: barnacles feeding


Sandollar, baby flounder, and red algae


Adult female lobster with thousands of eggs on swimmeretes

The lobster in this picture was quite large with an impressive number of eggs on the swimmeretes.  I wish I had gotten a better picture



Two baby lobsters with a Jonas crab

Water Sampling

Students setting up a Van Dorn bottle, horizontal water sampler, to take water sample.

<img class=" wp-image " id="i-2158" title="Students take water samples at 5m depth" alt=""

Students take water samples at 5m depth

1003131018Georges Bank Fish

Thinking about what fish use Georges Bank, what they eat, where they live, and their abundance.

Afternoon Sandy Beach Program

We had a 45 min break for lunch (yay! beach pizza from Tripoli’s!) and then one last activity on the beach: How do beaches form? Students examined and compared high, mid, and low-tide sands as well as the wrack line, and made nifty little booklets about what they uncovered.


Student Assignment

Students who went on this field trip are to blog their learning, choosing from one of the questions below or creating their own:

  • How was your ocean literacy changed?
  • What is one thing you learned today?
  • Choosing just one of the floating lab stations, what value did you get from the station?
  • How did this field trip help you understand marine science?
  • How did the field trip illustrate methods used by scientists in the real marine science investigations?
  • What do you understand better now, as a result of the learning stations?

All statements must be supported with evidence (examples), and have follow-up from additional sources (links). The usual two paragraph minimum with a related picture applies. The pictures Ms. Goodrich took are here.


It was a good day. The weather was spectacular. The students were engaged in real, honest-to-goodness science practices. And the staff of both Eastman’s and the UNH team were great.

Thanks goes out to Dari Ward at UNH for organizing this wonderful ocean literacy program. The docents on this field trip were extremely professional, knowledgeable, friendly and experienced. They enhanced the program considerably with these qualities.  The program itself is funded through a New Hampshire Sea Grant.

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