The Ocean Motion website provides resources developed for inquiring minds both in and outside the classroom, for reading level grades 9-12 (Flesch-Kincaid).

This web site contains a comprehensive review of the surface circulation of Earth’s ocean and classroom investigations appropriate for various disciplines at the high school level. To help you find the investigation that is right for you, a Teacher’s Guide lesson matrix is available that invites you to choose activities based on teaching strategy, classroom objectives, time estimates, disciplines and National Education Standards.

The site features a toolbox of satellite and model data, quick evaluation quizzes and a timeline of ocean explorers to inspire investigation of ocean surface current patterns and how they relate to issues of navigation, weather/climate, natural hazards and marine resources. The classroom investigations help high school students practice skills matched to national standards, which are keyed to topics covered in traditional high school curriculum and to the stages of the 5 E’s teaching and learning model.


The blue navigation bar at the top of each screen contains the project resources listed below:
Quizzes – Students are asked to take an online consisting of several questions. When they submit their responses online, a pop-up window appears that shows the correct response to each question and provides additional, clarifying information. Engagement activities such as this one are typically not graded. If teachers wish to use the quiz results to better understand student awareness, they may ask the students to printout their quiz results.
Background – An in depth reference describing the what, when and where of ocean surface currents. The content of this section was adapted from DataStreme Ocean and used with permission of the American Meteorological Society. DataStream Ocean was developed as a high school teacher training course. Excerpts from it are used in the Ocean Motion teacher and student guides.
Background - Timeline – A timeline shows how humans have used ocean surface currents to navigate the globe for exploration and commerce as well as study the environment.
Impact – Articles describe how ocean surface currents affect each of our lives through climate variability, natural hazards, and marine resources.
Gathering Data – Descriptions of the tools used to observe ocean surface currents including satellites, flotsam, HF Radar, buoys and historical ship drift data.
Researchers/Applications - The Ocean Motion project motivates students to seek STEM careers relevant to Earth System Science by introducing them to oceanographers and their current research through video interviews and career path descriptions.
Data Resources - Remote sensing data products (images, time series graphs and tables of satellite data) created to be conveniently accessible in the classroom. These are presented through fifteen interactive satellite data visualizers and models which are integrated with the 5 classroom lessons.
Teachers - A teacher’s lesson matrix with five classroom lessons emphasizing mathematics, basic statistics and models to bridge the gap from data to quantifying patterns and testing hypotheses.
Students – Five student investigations integrate observation data and modeling into core science and math classes, including: biology, Earth science, math, and physics. Flesch-Kincaid reading level grades 9-10.
Glossary – Seventy-seven words and definitions to support content within the web site.

Why Study Ocean Surface Currents?

For centuries, mariners have relied on ocean surface currents. Explorers rode them to discover new lands. Merchants counted on them to speed the transport of goods to market. Today understanding ocean surface currents is as important as ever. People study currents to select the most fuel efficient path for ships, win sailboat races, track pollution such as oil spills, assist in search and rescue operations and determine the best location for catching fish.

Yet ocean surface currents also play a larger role in shaping our world. Scientists are learning how these currents help influence weather patterns not only along the coast but inland as well. As evidence continues to mount that human activities are warming the atmosphere, it becomes imperative that we understand the role that the ocean and its surface currents play in shaping weather and climate.

Other than the sun, the ocean is the most important force affecting Earth’s climate. Heat exchange between the ocean and atmosphere drive atmospheric circulation over the entire planet and modify air temperatures. Ocean surface currents play an important role by redistributing some of the heat the ocean absorbs. As phenomenon such as El Niño proves, even seemingly small changes in ocean currents can alter weather patterns throughout the world. Understanding this complex relationship between surface currents and weather is important to understanding global climate patterns and the changes that they are undergoing due to global warming. Only then can we develop strategies for coping with the changing climate and its impact on agriculture, health, politics, and the economies of the world.

Understanding surface currents is also important for understanding the ecology of life in the ocean. Oceans and estuaries support the largest store of biodiversity on the planet. Surface currents transport nutrients and help determine the distribution of life in the ocean. Ocean surface currents also redistribute pollution and hazardous materials that enter the ocean. Studying the interaction of physical and biological ecosystems in the ocean will help us protect this most important source of life on the planet.

All of human understanding is based – at some level – on observation. What we know about our environment is based on shared observations over time. Our ability to see the ocean on a broad scale and measure its properties improved dramatically during the 20th century. Just as the science of meteorology has given us the means to quickly observe and forecast the weather, ocean observations from satellites in space are giving us a comprehensive view of our planet. It has revolutionized our understanding of how the ocean impacts everybody’s lives.

Scientists are developing increasingly sophisticated computer models to study weather variability. Yet human induced climate change is sure to have impacts far beyond those foreseen by these models. Models are still unable to tackle some of the most complex interactions that exist in nature. Little is known about the sequence of environmental changes that major global shifts in precipitation and temperature will trigger. There is little scientific data on how organisms from plants to insects to birds and mammals to coral reefs will adapt to significant climate changes, or how these changes may affect the spread of diseases or distribution of water. Nor is there much information on how changes would impact the water and carbon cycles. Ocean surface currents are an important piece of this puzzle.

More complete information about the ocean will help close the gap in our knowledge about the state of Earth. Most of the globe is covered with water but many questions remain about the ocean's present and past state and how it influences student's lives. 

Environmental education programs focus nearly all their hands-on investigations on land-based systems and issues.  With the development of new sensing and monitoring technologies for the ocean and with expanded funding in response to global concerns about the effects of the ocean on Earth's habitability, teachers have more at their disposal such as visuals and teaching materials that present the ocean as a dynamic ever changing realm. The ocean provides abundant materials that support a wide array of interdisciplinary education and can be used to bring adventure and challenges into the classroom. The ocean is the birthplace of Earth's most powerful storm systems. Having access to today's satellite observation data will allow teachers and students to investigate the role of the ocean’s influence on hometown weather patterns. The study of ocean surface currents involves the realm of the ocean with which people are most familiar.  Their study can be tied into existing disciplines at many levels, covering study of the motion of objects, fluid behavior, ocean travel, global energy flow, thermodynamics and abundance of ocean life.