Gulf Stream Heat Budget and Europe's Mild Climate: A Problem-based Learning Activity

Warren C. Tomkiewicz
Plymouth State University
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Initial Publication Date: February 7, 2008 | Reviewed: October 22, 2012


Student groups are presented a problem scenario to research and make recommendations, predictions, and a resolution of the problem based on data and visualizations.

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Undergraduate course in oceanography for non-majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Research skills - finding appropriate databases and visualizations. Data analysis.
Writing skills (preparing a report to be presented to class).
PowerPoint presentation skills.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is one of several problem-based scenarios used throughout the course to supplement text readings, lab work, and other class activities. The scenarios are derived from real research problems from the oceanographic literature.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Understand ocean circulation patterns.
Understand the interaction between the ocean and atmosphere.
Understand the role of the Gulf Stream in ocean circulation.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Hypothesis testing; interpreting inferences made about the Gulf Stream.
Data analysis; evaulation of ocean circulation models.
Presentation skills.

Other skills goals for this activity

Writing coherently.
Using the Internet/WWW as a source of information; evaluating the content of these sites.
Group work; discussion skills.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are presented with a scenario (problem) to recommend whether the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe warm and the potential effects if polar ice were to continue melting. The students work in small groups and discuss the problem and identify the issue. They then list everything they know about the issue and develop a problem statement. They then ask what they need to know to solve the problem and search the Internet data sites, etc., and analyze the information gathered. They complete the activity by preparing an individual report and PowerPoint presentation where they make a recommendation or other appropriate resolution of the problem based on the data, visualizations, and background information.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Quality of their written report and PowerPoint presnetation. Rubrics are distributed prior to their writing.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

EBSCO Host Databases: Academic Search premier:
- Seager, R. 2006. American Scientist: 94(4).
- Dong, S. and K. Kelly. 2004. Heat budget in the Gulf Stream Region. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 34: 1214 -1231.
Google Scholar
Web of Science through library databases