1. 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 https://serc.carleton.edu/teachearth/activity_review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

Lab 4: Finding Coral's Ideal Environment

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Corals, like other living animals, require a particular range of environmental conditions to survive. In this lab, students examine sea surface temperature, depth, salinity, and aragonite saturation data to discover coral reefs' favored environments.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • identify the geographic locations most favorable for coral reefs; and
  • describe the range of environmental conditions in which coral reefs thrive and survive.
Open the Student Lab »

Context for Use

This activity follows Lab 3: Building a Reef, in which students model how corals extract calcium from seawater to create hard reef structures. At this point in the unit, students should be familiar with the anatomy and basic life processes of corals and ready to learn more about the specific environmental characteristics that are most hospitable to coral reefs. Students can work as individuals or in pairs or small groups for all three parts of this lab. The entire investigation should take approximately 2 class periods.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A, students examine maps of known coral reef locations and sea surface temperature. They compare the data from the two maps to characterize coral's ideal temperature range.

In Part B, students first examine a bathymetry and topography map to determine whether coral reefs are typically found in deep or shallow waters. Because the bathymetry scale covers too a wide range of depths to accurately characterize coral's ideal depth range, students also look at an illustration of how deep different colors of light penetrate ocean waters.

In Part C, students consider the effects of ocean chemistrynamely, salinity and aragonite saturation on coral reef locations.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet (PDF (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Aug7 18) and Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Aug7 18))

Teaching Notes and Tips

None to offer until testing is completed.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

California Science Teaching Standards met by this activity

Developer will correlate activity to standards in these documents:
Earth science content standards - Grades 9 to 12
Biology content standards (see Ecology) - Grades 9 to 12
Investigation and Experimentation Standards - Grades 9 to 12

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

PDF of Science and technology standards Earth science standards begin on page 112

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

Learning standards for science

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

North Carolina Standard Course of Study

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

Texas Essential Knowldege and Skills (TEKS)

Developer will correlate activity to standards listed at this site:

National Science Education Standards (SRI)

Additional Resources

Content Extension

For background information about coral's preferred environment, read NOAA's Where Reefs Exist.

NASA makes a product called World Wind, which is similar to Google Earth, but made to display scientific data. This program is free to download. An Oceanic Add-On with oceanographic data sets including temperature, depth, and salinity is also available. This software has the following system requirements:

  • Windows 2000, or XP
  • Intel Pentium 3, 1 GHz, or AMD Athlon or higher
  • 256 MB of RAM
  • 3D Graphics Card
  • DSL / Cable connection or faster
  • 2 GB of disk space