Education: Student Outcomes

The tables posted below show the 23 student outcomes addressed by Aquarius Education and Outreach materials and aligned with National Science Education Standards, North American Association for Environmental Education guidelines, and Ocean Literacy standards. The outcomes are grouped into four major themes that relate to Aquarius science: Water Cycle, Ocean Circulation, Climate, and 21st Century Technology.

Water Cycle
Earth's water cycle is dominated by ocean-atmosphere exchanges: globally, 86% of evaporation and 78% of precipitation occur over the ocean. Ocean surface salinity is a key tracer for understanding the freshwater fluxes into and out of the ocean system. This is because some parts of the water cycle decrease salinity (e.g., precipitation, groundwater flow to the ocean, river runoff) and some parts increase it (e.g., evaporation and freezing of seawater). With Aquarius data, scientists are able to relate ocean surface salinity variations to evaporation and precipitation, providing insight into how the ocean responds to seasonal and annual variability in the water cycle.

Student Outcome Level Relevant Sources
Explain that evaporation can separate the water from the salt in salt water Basic NSES,127; NAAEE,16; OLS,13
Compare the basic properties of fresh and salt water (e.g., density, ability to dissolve salt, freezing point) Basic NSES,134,160; OLS,10
Explain the energy conversions found in the water cycle (e.g., evaporation requires heat energy, condensation releases heat energy) Intermediate NSES,161; NAAEE,35; OLS,11
Explain how the processes of the water cycle (e.g., evaporation, precipitation) relate to the oceans Intermediate NSES,160; OLS,5
Explain the effect of temperature on density Intermediate NSES,180; OLS,12
Explain the relationship between fresh water and ocean dynamics Advanced
Determine if global precipitation, evaporation, and the cycling of water are changing Advanced

Ocean Circulation
Salinity plays a major role in how ocean waters circulate around the globe. Salinity changes can create ocean circulation changes that, in turn, may impact regional and global climates. The extent to which salinity impacts our global ocean circulation is still relatively unknown, but NASA's Aquarius mission helps advance that understanding by painting a global picture of our planet's salty waters.

Student Outcome Level Relevant Sources
Describe the connections between the salt water found in the ocean and the fresh water in the water cycle Basic NSES,160; NAAEE,12,16; OLS,10
Explain the effect of density on ocean circulation Intermediate NSES,154; OLS,10
Explain the effect of solar energy heat on ocean circulation Intermediate NSES,155,161; NAAEE,35; OLS,11
Explain the influence of the El Niño Southern Oscillation on global weather patterns Advanced NAAEE,54; OLS,11
Explain the influence of ocean salinity on the thermohaline circulation (e.g., "global conveyor belt") Advanced

Oceanographers believe that maintaining density-controlled ocean circulation is key to keeping ocean heat transport - and Earth's climate - in balance. Increases in ocean surface salinity in high latitudes can increase seawater density and speed up the deep overturning circulation in the ocean. Conversely, decreases in ocean surface salinity (e.g., by melting ice) may result in widespread decreases in seawater density, reducing its ability to sink. In a very simple model, decreasing ocean surface salinity in the North Atlantic would reduce the efficiency of the ocean "global conveyer belt" which helps to regulate global climate by moving heat from the tropics to higher latitudes.

Student Outcome Level Relevant Sources
Compare climates considering factors such as precipitation, temperature, and distance from an ocean Basic NAAEE,16; OLS,13
Explain the effect of solar energy on wind and cloud formation and the effect solar energy, wind and clouds have on climate Intermediate NSES,160,189; NAAEE,30; OLS,11
Explain that the ocean holds a large amount of heat and the effect this has on climate Intermediate NSES,160,189; NAAEE,30; OLS,11
Describe how changes in the ocean's circulation can produce large changes in climate Advanced NSES,189; NAAEE,54; OLS,12
Explain how climate variations can induce changes in the global ocean circulation Advanced

21st Century Technology
We know climate change can affect us, but does climate change alter something as vast, deep and mysterious as our oceans? For years, scientists have studied the world's oceans by sending out ships and divers, deploying data-gathering buoys, and by taking aerial measurements from planes. But one of the better ways to understand oceans is to gain an even broader perspective - the view from space. NASA's Earth observing satellites do more than just take pictures of our planet. High-tech sensors gather data, including ocean surface temperature, surface winds, sea level, circulation, and even marine life. With the launch of Aquarius, NASA has collected its first-ever ocean surface salinity data. Information that satellites obtain help us understand the complex interactions driving the world's oceans today - and gain valuable insight into how the impacts of climate change on oceans might affect us on dry land.

Student Outcome Level Relevant Sources
Explain that satellites can be used to make measurements at a distance Basic NSES,123,138; NAAEE,14
Design a simple experiment to answer a question they have about the ocean or saltwater Basic NSES,122; NAAEE,13
Gather, analyze, and interpret environmental data about the ocean's effects on climate Intermediate NSES,145; NAAEE,29,32
Explain how new technology can enhance the gathering and manipulation of oceanic data Advanced NSES,176; NAAEE,51,52; OLS,14
Conduct a complex experiment to answer a question they have about the effect of ocean salinity on climate Advanced NSES,175; NAAEE,49
Explain that ocean science is interdisciplinary and requires new ways of thinking Advanced NSES,192; OLS,14

  • NSES: National Science Education Standards
  • NAAEE: North American Association for Environmental Education
  • OLS: Ocean Literacy Standards
  • NAAEE (2000). Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning (K-12). 2nd edition. Rock Spring, GA: North American Association for Environmental Education
  • National Geographic Society, NOAA, and College of Exploration (2005). Ocean Literacy: The Essential Principles of Ocean Sciences Grades K-12. 2 pp.
  • National Research Council (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 272 pp.