Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Teaching Activities > Ocean Observing Journal

Ocean Observing Journal

Anne Michelle Wood, University of Oregon
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 5, 2013


Students access a number of sites that provide oceanographic data in real-time or near-real-time at least weekly over the course of a semester or quarter and keep a data log and a journal of changes they see in chlorophyll, SST, and upwelling related variabiles. They focus at the global scale, and in a local scale (Pacific Northwest), interpreting changes in primary production based on material being discussed in class (Spring Transition in California Current System, Indian Ocean Monsoon, Spring Bloom of North Atlantic, Polar Ocean Productivity).



This can be used at a number of levels although I developed it for an upper division course , "Marine Microbiology: Phytoplankton," offered to Biology Majors. It is also cross-listed as a graduate course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students need basic computer skills and access to a computer and storage device. Weekly presentations also required some knowledge of PowerPoint. Students need to understand basic role of chlorophyll in cells, why we use chlorophyll as a proxy for productivity, and, at least by mid-term, they need to understand wind-driven circulation, Ekman transport, and the reasons why there are seasonal cycles of productivity in many parts of the Earth.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is an activity that is introduced in the second week of the term after lectures on nutrients and phytoplankton, and at the time that photosynthesis and light begin to be discussed. By week 3, we are talking about factors that get nutrients into the euphotic zone and why there are plankton blooms in different parts of the ocean. When the assignment is first introduced, a lab period is spent visiting all the sites and talking about gliders and other ocean observing technology, a companion lecture discusses satellite oceanography. Students self-identify small groups that will make a weekly presentation for about 10 minutes about what they observed the previous week, and, at the end of the term each student turns in their journal (data pages and notes) along with a two-page summary or synthesis. The exercise is worth 20% of the course grade.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Spatial and temporal variability in phytoplankton biomass
  • Coastal upwelling and downwellng, forcing and impact on ecosystem
  • Interaction of winds, heating, and insolation on primary productivity in coastal and open ocean environments.
  • Value of synoptic and continuous measures (e.g. gliders, satellites, buoys) ... (see #1 above)
  • Concept goal #1 - for students to see the Earth as a dynamic system, very much dominated by the ocean
  • Concept goal #2 - For students to appreciate that there is an going active program of earth observing that can be tapped for scientific input on many issues relating to environmental and social needs.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Data reduction, finding ways to synthesize large amounts of factoids in a way that can be used to describe complex patterns
  • Planning, requires regular visits to websites
  • Hypothesis building and testing

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Writing
  • Working in groups to achieve a goal (e.g. presentation)
  • Working in groups collaboratively (sharing insight and ideas for a better overall outcome.. seek '4' below)
  • Presentation skills and adapting to ideas from the audience. (e.g. the process of scientific presentation where others may see things you did not, and how to adjust one's thinking without feeling defensive)

Description and Teaching Materials

Two files are included. One is the assignment itself, the second is the excel spreadsheet students started with this term. This is the first time we have done this exercise and I think there are a number of changes I would make to the spreadsheet. The final products the students submitted, however, have been awesome.

Note that the last few pages of the assignment on accessing ocean color data were adapted from a file obtained from the Monterey Bay
Ocean Observing Journal Assgmt (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 3.1MB Jun5 13)

Teaching Notes and Tips


  • Weekly updates through the student presentations allows everyone (students, me, and gtf) to assess how people are doing and what problems they may be having with interpretation of observations or accessing information.
  • Mid-term discussion in class of what should be included in the rubric for grading the final product
  • Grading rubric and grading of final document

References and Resources