Wind and Ocean Ecosystems


Wind has a fundamental impact on ocean ecosystems. Wind drives physical processes, including current development and upwelling through Ekman transport. These physical processes, in turn, have cascading impacts on the chemistry and biology of various marine ecosystems. Currents transport heat to northern latitudes, regulating the climate of those ecosystems. Upwelling brings nutrient-rich deep water to the surface where it drives primary productivity, mainly of phytoplankton. To understand the interdisciplinary nature of marine processes, students need to have an understanding of not just these physical processes, but also geolocation, mapping, and directional data. This module introduces students to the concepts of Ekman transport, eastern boundary currents, and upwelling, while learning how to find a location on a map using latitude and longitude, how to build and interpret a wind rose plot in Excel, and how to access and view relevant data from oceanographic satellites. Project EDDIE modules are designed with an A-B-C structure to make them flexible and adaptable to a range of student levels and course structures.

Strengths of Module

This module introduces students to physical ocean processes in an inquiry-based way using real data. By having students engage with data to figure out for themselves the concepts of Ekman transport and upwelling, it forces them to apply those concepts throughout the module. The module also connects the physical processes of the ocean that are essential for marine science students to understand with the biological processes of the ocean that students typically care more about. This module also introduces students to wind rose plot interpretation, which exposes them to other types of plots and data visualization.

What does success look like

By the end of the module students should be able to:

  • generate a wind rose plot in Excel.
  • be able to explain how wind direction and strength influence physical and biological ocean processes.
  • find a location on a map using latitude and longitude.
  • explain the relationships between wind bearing and direction.
  • convert between wind direction in degrees and wind direction using the cardinal and ordinal directions.
  • interpret a choropleth map.

In Activity A, after the presentation of discussions and readings, students will be able to find a location on a map using latitude and longitude. In Activity B, students will create a wind rose plot in Excel and describe how the dominant wind direction at a buoy station in the Gulf Stream impacts the direction and strength of the Gulf Stream. In Activity C, students will identify when upwelling occurs and describe how upwelling is driven by wind direction and intensity. In Activity D, students will visualize and explain the effects of upwelling on primary productivity.

Context for Use

This module was taught in an environmental statistics class in a computer lab as a means of teaching map and wind rose plot interpretation. It was taught over two 3-hour computer lab periods, which included students writing a lab report with 'results' and 'discussion' sections, with appropriate figures referenced, after completing the activity worksheets themselves. Activities A and B were run in one lab period, while activities C and D were run in the second lab period a week later. Students knew how to use Excel before beginning the module. However, the instructions on how to use Excel should be detailed enough that students with minimal Excel experience should be able to complete the module with minimal instructor guidance. This module would adapt well to an oceanography class where the primary goal is to teach physical oceanography. However, sections A and B alone could be adapted to introduce wind rose interpretation to an atmospheric-based class. Activity D requires access to an ArcGIS Online subscription. Many schools have licenses for ArcGIS Online, but you may need to ask your administrator how to access that for your students. Activity D is therefore optional and students need only to complete through Activity C to see how wind drives upwelling.

How Instructors Have Used This Module

This module was featured in a webinar, which is available in the references and resources section below. You can also browse My EDDIE Experience Instructor Stories from users, provided below.

Using the Project EDDIE Wind and Ocean Ecosystems module in Oceanography
Laura Reynolds, Worcester State University
Module adaptation used in a 20-student, undergraduate intermediate-level oceanography course required within the environmental science major at Worcester State University. This instructor story and adaption materials were developed during a Project EDDIE Faculty Mentoring Network in partnership with QUBES in the Spring of 2021.

Using Wind and Ocean Ecosystems in Environmental Statistics
Alanna Lecher, Lynn University
Author's experience teaching the module in a 13-person Environmental Statistics upper-level undergraduate course at Lynn University.

Description and Teaching Materials

Why this Matters:

The study of ocean organisms and systems is inherently interdisciplinary. This module reinforces for students the interdisciplinary nature of oceanography. Furthermore, by using existing oceanographic observation systems, this module allows students to experience authentic oceanographic research and garner a better understanding of how science is conducted in marine settings.

Quick outline/overview of the activities in this module

  • Pre-module work: Set up an account with ArcGIS, online, outside of class as instructed by professor (only if doing Activity D)
  • Activity A: Find latitude and longitude of buoys from the NOAA National Data Buoy Center in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean and plot the buoys on a worksheet.
  • Activity B: Create a wind rose plot in Excel of wind direction and strength of a specific buoy in the Gulf Stream.
  • Activity C: Identify an upwelling event with buoy water temperature data, create wind rose plots of upwelling and non-upwelling events.
  • Activity D (Optional): Visualize upwelling with a choropleth map time series, look at MODIS chlorophyll data of upwelling and non-upwelling events.

Activity A

  1. Go to the NOAA National Data Buoy Center, enter in the station IDs in the "Station ID Search." Copy down the latitude and longitude of each station.
  2. Plot the stations on a map handout.
  3. Compare station locations to ArcGIS online to check locations.

Activity B

  1. Practice converting from wind direction in degrees to wind direction using the cardinal and ordinal directions.
  2. Sort and process buoy data to create a wind rose plot of a buoy station in the Gulf Stream in Excel.
  3. Infer how wind speed and direction influence ocean currents through Ekman transport.

Activity C

  1. Identify an upwelling event in Monterey Bay, California, using buoy water temperature data.
  2. Create two wind rose plots of buoy data from Monterey Bay: 1) a 2-week period of an upwelling event, and 2) a 2-week period of a non-upwelling event.
  3. Compare the wind rose plots to determine how wind direction and speed induces upwelling.

Activity D

  1. Visualize an upwelling event in Monterey Bay, California, using a visualization of MODIS ocean temperature data in ArcGIS online.
  2. Watch chlorophyll concentrations in Monterey Bay, California, from the beginning of the year to the upwelling event, and describe how upwelling influences primary production.

Teaching Materials:

  • Instructor's Manual: Instructor Manual (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 2.1MB Jun11 21)
  • Instructor's PowerPoint: PowerPoint, Including Parts A, B, C, and D (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 4.1MB Jun24 21)
  • Student Handout: Student Handout (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 9.4MB Jan24 22)
  • Dataset for Activity B: Wind Rose Plot Data for Gulf Stream Buoy (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 1.7MB Jun24 21)
  • Dataset for Activity C: Wind Rose Plot and Temperature Data for Monterey Bay Buoy (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 349kB Jun24 21)
  • Answer Key-Activity B wind rose plot:
  • Answer Key-Activity C line plot:

Teaching Notes and Tips

As wind rose plots are very different from other types of plots students typically encounter, it can be useful to walk the students through interpreting their plots either as a class or as they finish activity B to ensure they are interpreting the wind roses correctly. Students also tend use northerly, southerly, etc. wrong. They want to use those terms to describe where the wind is blowing rather than where it is blowing from. Be sure to double check with the students, when they use these terms, that they are using them correctly. Activity A can be skipped if students already have an understanding of latitude and longitude while still accomplishing the goals of having students engage in inquiry-based quantitative reasoning.

Workflow of this module:

  1. Have students access their ArcGIS account online before coming to class (only if completing Activity D)
  2. Give students their handout when they arrive to class
  3. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section A.
  4. Students can then work through the module Activity A.
  5. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section B.
  6. Students can then work through the module Activity B.
  7. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section C.
  8. Students can then work through the module Activity C.
  9. Instructor gives brief PowerPoint presentation of Section D.
  10. Students can then work through the module Activity D.

Notes on the student handout:

Potential pre-class readings:

Measures of Student Success

After activity A, students should be able to find a location on any point on a map using latitude and longitude. Consider giving students a quiz where they must denote locations on a map given latitude and longitude. After activity B, students should be able to create and interpret a wind rose plot. Consider having students turn in their wind rose along with a description of what it means for assessment or having students interpret and describe wind roses that you give them. Students should also be able to describe Ekman transport. Consider giving students dominant wind location from other locations on the globe and asking the them to draw their prediction of the current direction. After activity D, students should be able to describe upwelling, how it is impacted by wind, and what the ecological consequences are. In addition to having students describe an upwelling process, as suggested at the end of the handout, it may be useful to have students try to predict other major upwelling locations on a map and to predict how upwelling in that location will impact that ecosystem. It may be especially useful to compare against equatorial upwelling system, which forces students to think about non-coastal settings.

References and Resources

Price, J. F., Weller, R. A., & Schudlich, R. R. (1987). Wind-driven ocean currents and Ekman transport. Science, 238(4833), 1534-1538.

Huyer, A. (1983). Coastal upwelling in the California Current system. Progress in oceanography, 12(3), 259-284.

NOAA (July 17, 2019) National Data Buoy Center:

ESRI (2020) ArcGIS Online:

Link for ESRI ArcGIS Online Map used in module: EDDIE wind direction and current

View the November 19, 2021, Project EDDIE Meet the Author Event: Engaging students in physical oceanography through data analyses, featuring how this module was used:

Click to view or download the webinar recording (MP4 Video 317.5MB Nov23 21).