Education: Activities & Documents

Hands-On Activities (30)
Hands-On Activities | Online Activities | Articles & Documents
Answering Questions About the Effect of Salinity on Climate
A short list of salinity-related experiments that could be designed by students in higher grades.

Aquarius/SAC-D Educación Cartel de la Pared (Pre-Lanzamiento)
Cartel de la pared con la información sobre el Aquarius/SAC-D Misión y actividades educativas relacionadas con la salinidad, el ciclo del agua, la circulación y el clima.

Aquarius/SAC-D Pre-Launch Wall Poster (English)
Wall poster with information about the Aquarius/SAC-D Mission and educational activities related to salinity, the water cycle, circulation and climate.

Booklet: Teaching Physical Concepts in Oceanography: An Inquiry Based Approach
Booklet cover
This supplement to Oceanography magazine focuses on educational approaches to help engage students in learning and offers a collection of hands-on/minds-on activities for teaching physical concepts that are fundamental in oceanography. These key concepts include density, pressure, buoyancy, heat and temperature, and gravity waves. The authors focus on physical concepts for two reasons. First, students whose attraction to marine science stems from an interest in ocean organisms are typically unaware that physics is fundamental to understanding how the ocean, and all the organisms that inhabit it, function. Second, existing marine education and outreach programs tend to emphasize the biological aspects of marine sciences.

The ocean provides an exciting context for science education in general and physics in particular. Using the ocean as a platform to which specific physical concepts can be related helps to provide the environmental relevance that science students are often seeking.

Can Seawater Freeze?
In this activity, students will investigate the idea that salt causes water to freeze at a lower temperature and that the oceans do not freeze (except in extreme polar areas) because of the salinity.

Coastal Versus Inland Temperatures
In this activity, students will use the weather section of the newspaper (or Internet) to help discover why coastal regions have relatively moderate climates.

Convection and advection are the major modes of heat transfer in the ocean and atmosphere. Convection occurs only in fluids and involves vertical motion of fluid, or flow, rather than interactions at the molecular level. It results from differences in densities - hence buoyancy - of fluids. The purpose of this activity is to review the basic concepts of thermal physics and highlight applications to ocean processes by focusing on the concept of convection.

Convection Under Ice
In oceanography, density is used to characterize and follow water masses as a means to study ocean circulation. Plate tectonics and ocean basin formation, deep-water formation and thermohaline circulation, and carbon transport by particles sinking from surface waters to depth are a few examples of density-driven processes. This activity is designed to highlight links to oceanic processes.

Density: Seawater Mixing & Sinking
Two of the most important characteristics of ocean water are its temperature and salinity. Together they help govern the density of seawater, which is a major factor controlling the ocean's vertical movements and layered circulation. After completing this activity, students should be able to explain the effect of density on ocean circulation.

Effect of Stratification on Mixing
Density is fundamentally important to large-scale ocean circulation. An increase in the density of surface water, through a decrease in temperature (cooling) or an increase in salinity (ice formation and evaporation), results in gravitational instability (i.e., dense water overlying less-dense water) and sinking of surface waters to depth. This experiment looks at the energy required to mix two layers.

Effects of Temperature & Salinity on Density & Stratification (Steps 1-4)
Stratification refers to the arrangement of water masses in layers according to their densities. This activity compares salt and fresh water, demonstrating that fluids arrange into layers according to their densities.

Effects of Temperature & Salinity on Density & Stratification (Steps 5-7)
Stratification refers to the arrangement of water masses in layers according to their densities. This activity compares warm and cold water, demonstrating that fluids arrange into layers according to their densities.

Electrolysis of Salt Water
In this activity, students will conduct an experiment to see that water can be split into its constituent ions through the process of electrolysis; prepare and experiment with a 10% salt solution to better understand the process of ion exchange; discuss and research the "softness" and "hardness" of water; and use the periodic table to identify elements and learn their characteristics.

Evaporation Investigation
Evaporation is the process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor. Evaporation is the primary pathway that water moves from the liquid state back into the water cycle as atmospheric water vapor. In this activity, students will investigate the idea that water can "disappear" into the air and will be able to explain that evaporation can separate the water from the salt in salt water.

Exploring Polar Oceanography: Ocean Currents and Climate Connections
Parts II and III of this lesson plan from Extra NewsHour focus on exploring global ocean currents, along with examining how regional currents affect coastal climates.

Floating in a Salty Sea
Density is the mass per unit volume (mass/volume) of a substance. Salty waters are denser than fresh water at the same temperature. Both salt and temperature are important influences on density: density increases with increased salinity and decreases with increased temperature. In this activity we will investigate how the density of an object and of the water affects whether the object will float or sink.

Gathering, Analyzing, and Interpreting Environmental Data About the Ocean's Effects on Climate
A short list of salinity-related experiments that could be designed by students in middle grades.

Global Winds and Ocean Currents
Gyres play an important role in redistributing heat from the low to middle and high latitudes, thus influencing air temperature, weather, and climate. After completing this investigation, students should be able to (1) demonstrate the influence of wind on ocean currents, and (2) describe the typical gyre circulation of surface currents in two major ocean basins.

Heat Flow and Latent Heat
A good grasp of the underlying principles of thermal physics is essential for understanding how the ocean functions and how it impacts climate. Thermal physics is one of the science subjects that students are familiar with and experience on a daily basis, but intertwined with the experiential knowledge they bring to class comes a mixed bag of misconceptions that must be identified and addressed. The purpose of this activity is to review the basic concepts of thermal physics and highlight applications to ocean processes by focusing on the concept of latent heat.

Investigating the Earth's Climate System - Energy
Water is a key element of the Earth's energy balance. The Sun's energy drives the water cycle, and in turn, water is a major factor in governing the surface temperature of the Earth. This activity covers multiple objectives related to energy in the climate system (e.g., defining albedo, explaining latent heat, determining the importance of energy absorption at Earth's surface, etc.)

Liquid Rainbow
When solutions of two different densities meet, the less dense solution will move on top of the more dense solution, resulting in a layering or stratification of solutions. Density is an important feature of seawater since many physical and biological processes are affected by it, such as moving heat around the globe (which influences climate and the feeding and reproduction of marine organisms). After completing this activity, students should be able to compare the basic properties of fresh and salt water (e.g., density, ability to dissolve salt, freezing point).

Ocean Currents and Coastal Temperatures
Students will chart the temperatures of two cities at approximately the same latitude but on different sides of North America. They will develop a hypothesis that explains the temperature differences between the two cities and create an air temperature model to test their hypothesis. They will measure the air temperature near a "cold water" current and a "warm water" current.

Ocean Currents and Sea Surface Temperature
In this activity, students will discover the link between ocean temperatures and currents as related to our concern for current climate change.

Potato Float
Seawater contains many dissolved substances and these add mass to the water producing a greater mass per unit volume, or density, than that of pure water. The relationship between the density of a fluid, weight of an object, and buoyancy is critical in understanding the ocean, because density has a direct influence on the way seawater and objects in seawater behave.

Properties of Fresh & Sea Water
In this activity students will investigate water's unique properties, including the differences between fresh water and seawater.

Questions About Oceans or Saltwater
A short list of salinity-related experiments that could be designed by students in lower grades.

The Nature of Salt
Chemically, table salt consists of two elements, sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl). Neither element occurs separately and free in nature, but are found bound together as the compound sodium chloride. Seawater contains an average of 2.6% (by weight) sodium chloride, or 78 million metric tons per cubic kilometer, an inexhaustible supply. After completing this activity, students will be able to explain the general relationship between an element's Periodic Table Group Number and its tendency to gain or lose electron(s); explain the difference between molecular compounds and ionic compounds; use a model to demonstrate sodium chloride's cubic form which results from its microscopic crystal lattice; and describe the nature of the electrostatic attraction of the oppositely charged ions that holds the structure of salt together.

The Water Cycle - Now You See It, Now You Don't
Water can change states among liquid, vapor (gas), and ice (solid) at various stages of the water cycle. Temperature affects the change of water from one state to another. When water vapor gets cold it changes to a liquid. This is called condensation. When heat is applied to water, it changes from a liquid to a gas. This is called evaporation. This activity focuses specifically on two aspects of the water cycle: evaporation and condensation.

Thermal Expansion
In this hands-on activity from Teaching Physical Concepts in Oceanography: An Inquiry Based Approach, students will review the basic concepts of thermal physics and highlight applications to ocean processes by focusing on the concept of thermal expansion.

Using Hovmöller Plots to Better Understand Temperature and Salinity
The purpose of this lesson is for students to learn what a Hovmöller plot is and several ways that they can be used to look at different data sets.

Online Activities (22)
Analyzing Monthly Environmental Data
This online activity challenges students to find the data set (e.g., air temperature, precipitation, evaporation) that most closely corresponds to ocean surface salinity patterns.

Annual Mean Data
Create monthly maps of global salinity, temperature or density at the surface or at specific ocean depths using this interactive data tool by NASA JPL.

Aquarius App
This app has specific information about the science and purpose of Aquarius/SAC-D, and features mission news updates, images of the observatory under construction, videos and animations. A data view feature shows many of the factors that affect Earth's ocean and the water cycle and for which Aquarius salinity data will be useful in improving our understanding.

Changes in Annual Mean Data
Create global maps of mean salinity, temperature, or density for any year from 1800 to 2005 at designated depths this this data tool from NASA JPL.

Changes in Monthly Mean Data
Create interactive maps of average global salinity, temperature or density at the ocean surface using this interactive tool from NASA JPL. In-water profiles for up to six locations can be plotted for these variables.

Concept Map: Heat Capacity
Learn about heat capacity in water (i.e. heat storage in water molecules) in this concept map, and how this enables life to be sustained on Earth. This map also depicts how heat travels through the ocean (slowly) versus through the atmosphere (quickly).

Concept Map: Hydrologic Cycle
This concept map shows how the water cycle is connected to Earth processes such as precipitation and evaporation and how these processes can affect global climate. The map also highlights ties between the Aquarius satellite instrument, salinity, and climate.

Concept Map: Phases of Water
This concept map explains the structure of a water molecule and how changes in the structure of a water molecule create different "states" or phases of water: solid, gas, and liquid. The map also highlights the difference between sea ice and icebergs and what that means in terms of sea level and the "freshness" of ocean water.

Concept Map: Properties of Water
Learn about the differences between fresh and salty water in this concept map, and how those difference affect water's temperature and density.

Global Climate Change
This "Vital Signs of the Planet" website features key indicators, evidence, causes, effects, scientific consensus, and NASA's role in monitoring climate change.

Go With the Flow
In this online game, students manage the density of seawater to make a submarine sink or rise in an effort to reach a treasure chest full of gold.

Interactive NASA Earth Wheel Activity
Explore water in our earth system using this online version of the Earth Wheel activity, which showcases data from four current NASA missions.

Mapping Our World With Aquarius/SAC-D
What kinds of science questions can we answer with ocean data collected from space? Watch this Spanish-language webinar as we go behind the scenes of this international mission and discover how Aquarius/SAC-D data can be used to map ocean and Earth processes - from the forest landscape of El Impenetrable and the habitat of an endangered dolphin species all the way to Antarctica!

NASA Earth Observations: Sea Surface Salinity
In June 2014, Aquarius salinity imagery on the NASA Earth Observations (NEO) website was updated to use Version 3 processing, including implementation of the smoothed version for the monthly products. On NEO, you can browse and download imagery of satellite data from NASA's constellation of Earth Observing System satellites.

Ocean Motion: Ocean Surface Currents
This data visualizer on NASA's Ocean Motion website gives access to the following global ocean surface current behaviors between 1992 and 2011: current speed, current direction, current convergence, and current vorticity as well as the anomaly values for each.

Ocean Motion: Ocean Surface Winds
This data visualizer on NASA's Ocean Motion website includes wind speeds and directions from 1999 to 2009.

Ocean Thinking: Inside and Outside the Box
Learn about ocean salinity from an entirely different perspective! While Aquarius is measuring ocean salinty from above, a team of NASA researchers have been investigating the ins and outs of salinity - from the ocean's surface to depth - in one of the saltiest places of the ocean.

Precipitation and the Water Cycle
How much do you know about how water is cycled around our planet and the crucial role it plays in our climate? Take this quiz from NASA's Earth Right Now Initiative and find out!

Quiz: Aquarius Studies Our Salty Seas, Version 1
How much do you know about Aquarius? Find out here!

Quiz: Aquarius Studies Our Salty Seas, Version 2
How much do you know about Aquarius? Take version 2 of our popular quiz and find out!

Sea Salt Quiz
Test your knowledge of ocean salinity and its relation to climate change and ocean circulation in this online quiz from NASA's Global Climate Change website.

Spacecraft 3D
NASA's Spacecraft 3D is an augmented reality (AR) application that lets you learn about and interact with a variety of spacecraft that are used to explore our solar system, study Earth, and observe the universe.

Articles & Documents (7)
Hands-On Activities | Online Activities | Articles & Documents
Aquarius Launch Details
A summary of the launch vehicle and details of the deployment of the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite.

Aquarius/SAC-D: Sea Surface Salinity from Space
The official mission brochure for the Aquarius/SAC-D Mission.

Evolution of North Atlantic Water Masses Inferred from Labrador Sea Salinity Series
Researchers Igor Yashayev and Allyn Clarke discuss the evolution and interplay of water masses in the subpolar North Atlantic, an important region in terms of deep-ocean circulation

If Rain Falls on the Ocean - Does It Make a Sound?
In this 1996 overview article, Dr. Raymond Schmitt (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution) summarizes fresh water's effect on ocean phenomena.

Salinity and the Global Water Cycle
Written three years before the launch of Aquarius in June 2011, this overview by Dr. Raymond Schmitt summarizes the impacts of climate change on the water cycle and ocean salinity.

The Aquarius/SAC-D Mission: Designed to Meet the Salinity Remote-Sensing Challenge
In this article, written many years before the launch of Aquarius, the authors report that a new satellite program will provide data to reveal how the ocean responds to the combined effects of evaporation, precipitation, ice melt, and river runoff on seasonal and interannual time scales.

What's Next for Salinity?
The CLIVAR (Climate Variability and Predictability) Working Group, an international research effort focusing on the variability and predictability of the slowly varying components of the climate system, provides recommendations to improve our understanding, monitoring, modeling and predicting of climate.